Recently, a researcher in MD Hall purchased two inexpensive “pointing lasers” over the Internet to use in an experiment. Fortunately, before starting work with the lasers, the researcher consulted with the Laser Safety Advocate—who determined that the lasers were actually dangerous 1-watt infrared Class 4 lasers, and a serious threat to anyone in the room if they were used without controls. With a little 3-D printer magic, the LSA re-engineered the experimental apparatus so that the system was a safer Class 1, not even needing protective laser goggles. Read about the case in Class 4 pointing lasers.
In the lab, we often collaborate with others in the lab or with outside researchers. It is essential that lab protocols be communicated consistently and in language everyone understands. Learn about a close call that occurred when a JHU researcher misunderstood an outside collaborator’s protocol in CCall miscommunication MD.
Many people don’t know that handheld lasers sold as “laser pointers” may be grossly overpowered and very dangerous both to the user and to the audience. Learn about laser pointer hazards and why Homewood allows only Class 2 laser pointers in Using laser pointers.
A researcher finished flame-sealing an ampoule in a chemical fume hood, turning off the torch used and setting it down. While the researcher was storing the ampoule, the hot torch tip ignited a number of lab wipes and rubber stoppers that had been left in the hood, and the cotton insulation on a nearby solvent still containing 1-2L of highly flammable tetrahydrofuran (THF) also ignited.
Learn more about this incident, including lessons learned at Incident Fire NCB Jun2015
During a lab move, a chemical container was moved to the wrong lab, where it remained for years. While the container read “Ethyl Alcohol” on the side, it actually contained chemical waste. Several years later, a student filled spray bottles with the contents of the container, and the lab used them for about a week to sanitize biological safety cabinets, equipment, hands, etc. Several researchers were exposed to the contents. Fortunately, analysis showed that the contents were water and a common solvent, and exposures were minimal.
Find out Lessons Learned and other information about this incident at Incident chemical exposure Croft Oct2014.
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.
Chemical fume hoods help prevent exposure to volatile hazardous chemicals in the lab. The hood works best, though, when it is empty. Everything in the hood disturbs the airflow, so keep extra equipment, chemicals, and other materials to a minimum.
Learn more about using fume hoods for storage in Fume hoods are not storage cabinets.
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.
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.
Every office and lab uses electrical equipment, but the wall socket is not always in the right place. An extension cord, power strip, or surge suppressor offers a quick way to fix this situation. Sometimes, though, this is not a good thing.
Learn about fire and other hazards from extension cords and their ilk in Extension cords v2.