Update on Texas Tech’s Safety Culture and January Lab Accident

Texas Tech has examined its entire safety culture and used the information learned to prevent future mistakes.

Texas Tech University

On Jan. 7, a Texas Tech doctoral student working on a research project in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was injured when energetic materials he was working with exploded.

This research was supported by a sub-contract from Northeastern University and funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of their Project ALERT research and development program.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) stepped in to conduct an investigation. This investigation is ongoing and can be found here.

Further, the ALERT Safety Review Board and DHS reviewed laboratory practices related to Texas Tech’s work on the ALERT project. Texas Tech is cooperating fully with the CSB and the DHS and has been authorized to resume work on the ALERT project.

Provost Bob Smith and Vice President for Research Taylor Eighmy sent a memo to the Texas Tech community on Feb. 9 outlining both immediate and ongoing responses to the accident. This memo also was posted on the Texas Tech website. A working group was established to examine the entire safety culture on campus. Alice Young, faculty fellow for research integrity in the Office of the Vice President for Research, led the study. A report from the working group and a memo from Eighmy and Smith was posted on the Texas Tech website on July 22 and distributed electronically to the Texas Tech community. The two memos and the report can be found here.

A number of national and local news organizations have requested information under the Texas Open Record Requests law and federal Freedom of Information Act law. This information has been provided to the requesting organizations while remaining compliant with the Family Education and Rights Privacy Act (FERPA).

“The accident gave Texas Tech the opportunity to examine its entire safety culture and use what information was learned to prevent future mistakes,” Eighmy said. “To that end, Texas Tech will continue to work closely with the CSB, DHS, professional laboratory safety organizations and the Texas Tech community to share its evolving best practices and lessons learned.”

Additional safety measures were instituted immediately after the accident by those involved with research in energetic materials at Texas Tech, the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department and the research community. The recommendations of the working group are being implemented. This is an ongoing process, Eighmy said, and the results from the CSB investigation as well as external peer review of Texas Tech’s safety programs and culture will guide its efforts over the coming months.

The graduate student involved is recovering and writing his dissertation. Texas Tech wishes him continued recovery and health and success in completing his degree. The university asks that the media respect his requests for privacy.