Laboratory Incident - Highly Reactive Material

A laboratory incident occurred at the Newark campus which can serve as an educational opportunity for safety committees to share with their departments.

A student was working in a laboratory on a Saturday afternoon, conducting an experiment whose procedure was loosely taken from a published paper. The procedure involved using some highly reactive materials within a fume hood. However, the published experiment recommended pre-distilling the materials, which was not performed as part of the experimental protocol. As a result, when the materials were heated, a reaction occurred that resulted in an explosion. The explosion shattered the glass reaction vessel and splattered its contents, along with the contents of a hot mineral oil bath which was heating the vessel.

At the time of the explosion, the student had just opened the vertical hood sashes to manipulate a thermometer. The student was hit with the splattered material and received burns to their face. Fortunately, the student was wearing safety glasses, which prevented damage to their eyes. The student also had a friend in the laboratory who was able to assist them after the incident by calling Public Safety. The student was able to extinguish the resulting fire in the fume hood with a fire extinguisher.

The lessons to be learned from this incident are as follows: (you may be able to identify others as well.)

  1. Never work alone when performing potentially hazardous experimental procedures.
  2. Always have experimental protocols reviewed and approved by your research advisor and/or Chemical Hygiene Officer.
  3. Whenever possible, keep hood sashes, shields, etc. positioned to protect you. Carefully design experimental procedures and equipment such that minimal manipulation is required. This will significantly reduce the risk of potential exposures and hazards.

    In this specific incident, an equipment support apparatus was positioned too far inside of the hood. Any necessary adjustments could not have been made to this apparatus without leaning into the hood. Leaning into a hood when an experiment is in progress potentially exposes the person to chemical and physical hazards. This kind of problem should be addressed in the planning stages of the experiment.

  5. Always wear personal protective equipment. A face shield in this instance would have protected the face from burns.
  6. Keep additional quantities of chemicals stored in their proper location.

This lab had multiple bottles of chemicals left on the laboratory benches. Had the fire not been quickly extinguished, the fuel load in the laboratory would have created a very difficult fire to extinguish.