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The independent investigation by the University of California (UC) Center for Laboratory Safety into the March 16, 2016 explosion in a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa laboratory has been completed. The UC team identified the likely physical cause to be an electrostatic charge and also provided recommendations on how UH and universities and research facilities across the country can improve laboratory safety practices.

UH retained the UC Center for Laboratory Safety for the investigation because it is a national leader in developing evidence-based best practices and facilitating implementation and optimization of laboratory safety practices.

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University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Building

“The University of Hawaiʻi thanks the UC team for its thorough investigation,” said UH Mānoa Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Bruno. “The lab safety recommendations provide valuable guidance in our commitment to a culture of safety in each and every research and teaching laboratory on our campus.”

UH Mānoa has already taken multiple steps to improve lab safety including the creation of a Chemical and Physical Hazards Committee made up of representatives from all of the schools and colleges that have research and teaching laboratories. This is one of the key recommendations by the UC Lab Safety Team. The committee will work with other safety-related committees already in existence to identify and implement protocols and processes to further strengthen the safety of UH laboratories.

“Our goal now is to become a national leader in laboratory safety.” said Bruno. “It’s about enhancing our safety culture and standard operating procedures where risks are constantly being identified and minimized. Everybody has a role to play.”

The accident happened in a Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) laboratory and seriously injured a researcher. Following the accident, the university suspended activities at HNEI laboratories working with high-pressure gases, flammable or explosive materials and other high-pressure work. The labs are still off line and are in the process of completing safety reviews of all activities and equipment.

The university is conducting regular safety peer-reviews among researchers and laboratory staff. The work of each lab group is examined with colleagues from similar and different disciplines, to identify existing best practices and review operations to further ensure safety.

If anyone has any questions regarding lab safety, please contact the Environmental Health and Safety Office at (808) 956-8660 or via email.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Hi
    This article would be of interest if it explained what actually happened, the learning and what is required to prevent recurrence. I cant see how we can learn anything from this article?

  2. I should have explained, my comments relate more to the video article rather than the overall article. The report itself is more comprehensive and does identify the underlying cause. In terms of action to prevent recurrence, I think a clear distinction should be made between laboratory safety and process safety. Laboratory safety tends to focus of safe working processes in the lab and hence didn’t identify what was an inevitable explosion. Process safety looks at the inherent hazards which exist in chemical processes and is a very well documented well understood field. The distinction needs to be made between the two in order to address both and arrive at safe working environment.

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