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Texas Tech's Response to Accident Investigation Report

CSB releases report on Jan. 7, 2010, chemistry accident.

Written by Chris Cook

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech has taken important steps to improve laboratory safety, campus-wide safety awareness and safety training following a Jan. 7, 2010, accident that injured a graduate student.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) investigated the accident and Wednesday issued a report that recommends the following:

“Revise and expand the university chemical hygiene plan (CHP) to ensure that physical safety hazards are addressed and controlled, and develop a verification program that ensures that the safety provisions of the CHP are communicated, followed, and enforced at all levels within the university.”

“Develop and implement an incident and near-miss reporting system that can be used as an educational resource for researchers, a basis for continuous safety system improvement, and a metric for the university to assess its safety progress. Ensure that the reporting system has a single point of authority with the responsibility of ensuring that remedial actions are implemented in a timely manner.”

The full CSB report can be found at www.depts.ttu.edu/vpr/integrity/csb-response/downloads/report.pdf. Texas Tech’s response to the CSB report and all actions taken since the accident can be found at www.CSBresponse.ttu.edu.

The accident on Jan. 7, 2010, was serious. A Ph.D. student working on a project in a Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry laboratory was injured when the energetic materials he was working with exploded. He has since recovered and completed his doctorate.

“Texas Tech University is grateful for the investigation conducted by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board regarding the serious laboratory accident that occurred here Jan. 7, 2010,” said Taylor Eighmy, vice president for research. “We fully agree with the findings and the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Guy Bailey, president of Texas Tech, has asked that we impose a number of additional recommendations and we will do so. We have obviously come quite a long way since the accident, but there is still more work to do. As we have stated from the beginning, we will be an exemplar around the culture of lab safety, and we will work with other academic institutions to learn from what happened here, apply necessary changes across our research and training, and share these best practices nationally.”

In addition to the CSB recommendations, Texas Tech will implement the following self-imposed recommendations:

  1. Adapt elements of physical risk into our chemical hygiene plan.
  1. Require Texas Tech University to become an exemplary institution around the culture of safety.
  1. Require the university to report annually to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board about progress made toward improving the culture of laboratory safety.
  1. Establish a TTU Faculty Chemical Safety Committee to help firmly establish the culture of laboratory safety.
  1. Acquire an online chemical inventory system.
  1. Require the provost and vice president for research to make laboratory safety an element of annual evaluations (e.g., college, department, faculty).
  2. Others to be determined.

 “In the aftermath of this accident the institution has examined its entire safety climate and will use the information we have gathered to help prevent future mistakes,” said Bailey “We will comply with the CSB recommendations and continue to work closely with the CSB and other organizations as our safety climate further evolves.”

Texas Tech has instituted many safety and educational measures beyond the recommendations of the CSB. “Texas Tech has not waited for the CSB to issue its report,” Eighmy said. “We immediately instituted changes at many levels and began looking at the issue of the culture of safety awareness across the campus.”

A working group was formed in February 2010 to examine how the university manages laboratory safety, the culture of safety awareness and safety training compliance. As a result of the group’s July 2010 report, several changes were implemented, including:

  • The establishment of a university-wide safety committee
  • The oversight of health and safety training of faculty and students was moved to the Responsible Conduct of Research training program managed in the Office of the Vice President for Research
  • The Environmental Health and Safety office was moved under the Office of the Vice President for Research
  • A yearly campus-wide safety forum was established, with the first seminar held in September 2011
  • An external review by environmental health and safety experts looked at the university’s safety climate and programs, and especially at the Office of Environmental Health and Safety’s staffing, management structure and strategic planning needs. Such external reviews will continue to be conducted at least every five years
  • Plans are underway to implement a centralized Web-based gateway system for chemical purchases
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