In the past, we’ve shared some lighthearted stories about lab safety and the accidents that occurred from a lack of it. But lab safety is serious, and lab accidents sometimes don’t have happy endings. While we recognize that light-hearted stories are great for sharing in the break room, it’s the serious ones that tend to bring lab safety to the forefront of your mind in those moments when it really matters.
Following are some of the most serious lab accidents in history. These are cautionary tales. When it comes to lab safety, you just can’t be too careful, which is why our dedicated lab benches come with so many standard safety features.
A Crushing Blow
A graduate student lost three fingers and suffered serious burns because of his lack of understanding about the materials with which he was working. One key component in lab safety is paying attention, especially when working with materials that are unfamiliar. The group of graduate students in question here were definitely unfamiliar. Their professor told them not to make more than 100 mg of nickel hydrazine perchlorate derivatives. Unfortunately, they either did not pay attention, or chose to ignore the professor’s instructions, and assembled 10 grams of the substance.
They also did not understand the explosive nature of their creation and chose to experiment by crushing it with mortar and pestle. The friction and pressure of this activity triggered an explosion, which cost the student those fingers—and a hard lesson for all involved.
Fatal Secondary Effects
Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that kills you. In Australia, a technician accidentally burned himself in a hydrofluoric acid spill, but those burns were not the cause of his demise. In fact, he only suffered burns over about 9% of his body—but he still died two weeks later. It was the fluoride that the researcher absorbed through his burned skin. It caused such a depletion of calcium in his body that he died from multiple organ failure.
Of course, medicine has, over time, improved to prevent just these types of tragedies. In this case, calcium gluconate gel should have been applied to his burns. This gel would have literally absorbed the fluoride ions so that they were never taken in by his body in the first place. Instead, the researcher was injected with doses of calcium, and of calcium gluconate to offset the loss, and one of his burned legs was amputated. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and he did not survive. The moral of this story is to keep up with lab safety research and know the latest and greatest treatments for each type of lab accident in which you or your colleagues could conceivably be involved.
Keeping Deadly Substances Safely within Your Lab
Usually with lab safety accidents, it’s not the lab equipment that’s the problem; it’s the human. The well-publicized 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk, Russia, which killed at least 64 people, was initially blamed by the Soviet government on tainted meat. However, years later, it was revealed that a military research facility had been the source of the outbreak—and the cause had been simple negligence. You see, someone forgot to change an exhaust filter in a timely fashion. That oversight resulted in the deaths of scores of people—and it could have been thousands more, if the prevailing winds had been blowing in a different direction!
Lab Safety Takes Many Forms
As these stories reveal, lab safety requires attention, education and timeliness, among other important qualities. There is never a good time to let down your guard in the lab, or do anything short of your best. This is why we have created the best possible dedicated lab benches for use with your mass spectrometers, HPLCs and other research instruments. To learn more about how our benches can contribute to safety in your lab, contact us today.