Dear DCHAS-L. I have not posted before, so this may not be the best way, but I am wondering if anyone else has considered that both this UH incident and the UCLA fatal burn incident a few years ago involved women. Womens clothing and hair may be especially prone to static electricity incidents. Synthetic content of lab coats and street clothing, longer hair and grooming practices may put women at slightly greater risk than men. Static discharge straps would be found in doorways of industrial facilities which were at risk for static discharge incidents, but what about academic labs? Bonding and grounding of containers and gas cylinders would be basic, and if that was not in place, the risk of static discharge was probably not recognised. Joanne Myers, MS, CIH
The credibility of any investigation is rooted in the experience AND credentials of the personnel conducting the investigation. The last time I checked the web site of the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety (UCCLS) I could find NO evidence of the Center having personnel with extensive experience or specific credentials in the safety field. Indeed, one individual listed as staff appeared to have recently arrived at her position by moving through a series of post doctoral appointments at UCLA. All to often safety positions in Universities appear to have been filled in that manner rather than by external searches for experienced and credentialed professionals.
Perhaps, some time in the future the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety will have experienced employees with safety credentials and gained a track record through experience that will warrant its being recognized first locally, then regionally, then nationally and finally internationally has an authoritative organization for conducting safety reviews.
Does the Report prepared by UCCLS on the Hawaii Accident provide biographies on the personnel conducting the investigation? Does it provide a summary of the experience of the personnel or UCCLS in conducting similar investigations? Absent these details the UCCLS Report does not deserve much credibility.
In my opinion, the chemistry community should collectively set higher standards then appear to be manifest in this case. I will admit the sad past experiences of the UCLA accident are still fresh in my mind. I think UCLA needs a decade of solid local experience in the safety arena before marketing its services as an authoritative body investigating accidents at other institutions.
I recognize that UCCLS hired an outside firm to conduct key studies as part of the investigation, that action is to be applauded. However, that is only part of an investigation.
I think the fact that the University of Hawaii engaged the UCCLS to conduct the investigation raises serious questions about leadership in chemical safety at the University of Hawaii.
I think the chemistry community and the scientific community at large should expect more when it comes to investigating serious accidents, what are your views? Is this the kind of safety culture you endorse?
Roger O. McClellan
Roger O. McClellan, DVM, MMS, DSc(Honorary)
Diplomate- ABT and ABVT; Fellow - ATS, AAAR, HPS, SRA, and AAAS
Member - National Academy of Medicine
Advisor - Toxicology and Human Health Risk Analysis.
On Fri, 7/8/16, Ralph Stuart <ras2047**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU> wrote:
Subject: [DCHAS-L] University of Hawaii lab explosion likely originated in electrostatic discharge
Date: Friday, July 8, 2016, 7:13 AM
University of Hawaii lab explosion likely originated in
The root cause was failure to recognize and control the
hazards of explosive gas mixture, investigation report says
By Jyllian Kemsley
The blast caused a postdoc to lose an arm and about $800,000
in lab damage.
An electrostatic discharge between postdoctoral researcher
Thea Ekins-Coward and a gas storage tank containing
hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide likely caused an
explosion at the University of Hawaii, M=C4=81noa, in which
Ekins-Coward lost one of her arms, according to a report by
the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety
UH hired UCCLS to conduct an independent investigation of
the March 16 accident and released the report on July 1.
Another investigation by the Honolulu Fire Department,
released in April, concluded that the cause was a spark from
the pressure gauge. UCCLS dug deeper than the fire
department and contracted with an outside laboratory to
recreate and test the experimental setup. Those tests ruled
out all causes other than a static discharge.
Going beyond the immediate cause of the explosion, however,
"the overall underlying cause of the accident was failure
to recognize and control the hazards of an explosive gas
mixture of hydrogen and oxygen," the UCCLS report says.
"The message to other researchers is that they need to do
a better job of educating themselves about the hazards of
the materials they're working with" and what could go
wrong, says Craig A. Merlic, UCCLS executive director and a
chemistry professor at UCLA. And campus safety personnel
"need to have conversations with researchers and guide
them to the resources that are available" to help conduct
experiments safely, he adds.
In the case of the UH explosion, for example, the lab passed
a safety inspection in January in part by properly storing
H2 and O2 cylinders 6 meters apart. But no one questioned
storing a mixture of the gases in a 49-L steel tank designed
for compressed air and not electrically grounded, the UCCLS
report says. When the tank exploded, it contained 55% H2,
38% O2, and 7% CO2 at a pressure of 8 atm. UCCLS estimated
the energy of the detonation to be equivalent to 70.5 g of
Ekins-Coward was working for the Hawaii Natural Energy
Institute under researcher Jian Yu. The gas mixture was used
to feed bacteria to produce biofuels and bioplastics. Yu's
lab is still closed, and he and the institute have not yet
determined how experiments will be set up going forward,
says institute director Richard E. Rocheleau.
The explosion cost about $716,000 in infrastructure damage
and $60,000 to $100,000 in equipment losses, and UCCLS was
paid $88,000, says UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.
UH placed no restrictions on the UCCLS team during its
investigation, Merlic says. The Hawaii Occupational Safety
& Health Division is also examining the incident.
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