Category: Incident reports

Summaries of lab safety incidents on campus

Incident report: Tank damage, Krieger Hall, May 2014

While performing experiments in a large water tank, a researcher placed an incandescent spotlight in front of a 2-inch thick Plexiglas observation window. During the experiments, the lamp slipped and came to rest against the window surface. The window melted one-third of the way through, compromising its mechanical integrity.

Learn more about this incident in Incident tank damage Krieger May2014.

Incident report: Unexpected pressure relief, UTL, Apr 2014

A pair of undergraduates in a chemistry class loaded a pressure vessel (a “Parr bomb”) with reactants and placed the vessel in a furnace, leaving the reaction to run for the night.

Several hours later, during an evening class in the same lab, an unanticipated reaction occurred in the vessel. This raised the pressure beyond the established safe operating limit for the experiment and burst the vessel’s safety rupture disc. The class heard a loud bang followed by a strong odor described as “microwaved broccoli.”

The instructor evacuated the lab. Because procedures were not clear, a delay followed before anyone contacted Security and Health, Safety & Environment. Once the authorities were notified, the laboratory was inspected for damage, and ventilation was increased to remove the odor (which had spread throughout the floor).

Learn more about this incident in Incident pressure relief UTL Apr2014.

Incident report: Regulator overpressure, Ames Hall, Feb 2014

A researcher was attempting to change the acetylene pressure on an atomic absorption spectrometer by adjusting the pressure regulator. He inadvertently set the pressure well above 15psig, despite the signs (and the red markings on the regulator) warning not to do so. When acetylene pressure exceeds 15psi, the gas can liquefy; in this state, acetylene can suddenly and explosively polymerize. Fortunately, this did not occur, although the regulator was ruined from overpressurization.

Learn more about this incident and its implications in Incident Ames Feb2014.

Incident report: Remsen Hall, June 2013

A researcher was flame-sealing a glass tube using an oxy-gas torch. The tube had been dipped in liquid nitrogen to condense its contents before the sealing operation, so the researcher was using a lab wipe to handle the cold glass. The wipe ignited and fell into the laboratory waste box, which also ignited. The researcher extinguished the resulting fire using a dry-chemical extinguisher mounted in the hallway outside the lab. Neither the fire department nor Security was called, nor was the building fire alarm sounded.

See lessons learned and discussion questions in this Safety Note.

Rockwell laser accident database

Since 1964, Rockwell International has maintained this database of laser incidents. Although reporting is voluntary, the sheer number of incidents in the database gives one pause.

One of the fastest-growing areas of laser incident is the “aircraft illuminated with laser” event. Shining lasers at aircraft is illegal in Maryland, punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. In the City of Ocean City on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, laser pointers are banned entirely.