Incident Involving Unattended Reaction

An unattended reaction, which was set up in a chemical fume hood exploded overnight, subsequently igniting other material that was stored in the same hood. It was determined that the fire was extremely hot and fueled by a solvent that was stored in the hood. Although the researcher had reportedly done this reaction before, using the same apparatus, we assume that this time the tube exploded. It was later determined that this type of reaction actually requires a high pressure reactor to conduct safely.

Extensive damage was done by this incident both by the explosion/fire and the subsequent water that flowed continuously for about 2.5 hours from three triggered sprinkler heads.

Lessons Learned:

  1. All unattended reactions must have prior approval from the PI.
  2. A laboratory protocol review must be conducted to ensure that the apparatus to be used is designed to meet the physical and chemical constraints of the process as well as set up properly. It is prudent to conduct a “dry run” whenever a new protocol is introduced to eliminate any hazards prior to the introduction of physical and chemical hazards.
  3. All protocols need to be reviewed and approved by the PI in the form of a Job Hazard Analysis (and any time anything is changed or altered in an existing protocol).
  4. All chemicals must be appropriately stored outside of the chemical fume hood according to chemical classification.
  5. Lab clutter must be eliminated. A cluttered work space increases the possibilities for an incident.

If you have any questions please contact the Chemical Hygiene Officer at or call 302-831-8475.