Eakins-Coward (left) and Sangji (right)

A recent explosion at the University of Hawaii science lab resulted in a 29-year-old visiting postdoctoral fellow losing her arm. Thea Eakins-Coward was working with gas cylinders in a biosafety level 2 laboratory in the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute when a reagent ignited causing her to lose and arm and sustain other injuries. The Univesity of Hawaii’s press conference revealed little of the nature of explosion except that it was a ‘routine experiment’ that had been repeated for almost a decade. Hope Jahren, a faculty member in the building and author of Lab Girl, shared that the building had to undergo tests to determine if there was substantial structural damage and local press coverage showed missing windows and large cracks in walls.

Lab accidents receive little press coverage leading an often laissez-faire attitude on behalf of researchers that can be deadly. Deaths from toxins and explosions have occasionally crossed over into mainstream media but do little to change the national practice of safety. Indeed, with most PIs years to decades away from the bench, the daily concerns of safety, personal protective wear and biohazard containment often fall on students as ‘chores’ rather than responsibilities of the PI and lab.

All this is prolog to the following call to action – for Thea and Sheri Sangji and all those trainees injured and killed in science, do these three things this week:

1) Make lab safety discussion a 5 or 10 minute part of every lab meeting. Ask questions like:

Do you have enough personal protective equipment (PPE)?

Can everyone bring their PPE and we can just do a spot check to make sure it’s current and safe?

Share the week’s news coverage of lab safety (set up a google alert on ‘laboratory accident’).

Everyone come to lab meeting with something from the NIH safety site they can tell me that they didn’t know.

Have the good folks from environmental safety come in and make sure your lab is up to date on chemicals, procedures and protection. PIs initiating these inspections sends the powerful message that safety is a priority, not an afterthought.

2) Dedicate a day this summer to cleaning up the lab, discarding chemicals that out of date and any equipment not in good repair. Environmental safety can help you with this

3) Put signage with your name around the lab reminding lab folks that YOU value their safety and they need to value the security of others as their top priority, or they can not work in the lab. Jahren site features a startling photo from Ian Tonks a professor at the University of Minnesota who was wearing safety goggles when an accident resulted in glass shards cutting his face but sparing his eye. It will certainly garner more than your standard amount of attention.

Other resources: @chemjobber blogs and on Twitter regularly posts news on lab safety and accidents.  The OHSA site has fabulous resources.

Photos from are of Shari Shangji (right) a laboratory technician who died in a UCLA lab fire and Thea Eakins-Coward (left) from University of Hawaii. Photos from Naveen Sangji (right) and Facebook public profile photo (left) 

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