Investigation Closed After 2010 Laboratory Explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board accepts Texas Tech’s changes to improve lab safety.

Chemistry building

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has closed its investigation into a 2010 explosion that severely injured a graduate student in the Texas Tech University Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.

“The academic community at Texas Tech has taken on the challenge to develop a strong positive safety culture,” said Alice Young, associate vice president for research. “Staff, students, faculty and administrators have worked to change our expectations about the safety needs of our work and about how we act on those needs.”

Following its investigation, the CSB made two specific recommendations for changes needed at Texas Tech:

  • Expand the overall safety plan for labs, studios and research sites to include physical safety hazards and to ensure that all members of the Texas Tech community are aware of the safety plan.
  • Create a near-miss reporting system to understand any risks of the work being done at Texas Tech.

Young said many campus groups have worked on these changes, especially the faculty-led Institutional Laboratory Safety Committee (ILSC), which made its most recent report to the CSB in April. On June 1, the CSB investigation board voted to accept that work and changed the status of its recommendations to “closed – acceptable action.”

Young

Alice Young

“President M. Duane Nellis and his senior leadership members are taking an active role in these changes,” Young said. “Of particular importance, President Nellis has asked all members of the Texas Tech community to learn about and use our safety plan, which, though still called the TTU Chemical Hygiene Plan or CHP, now covers the wide range of hazards we need to understand to do our work.”

Another result of Texas Tech’s safety effort was Young’s appointment in May to the Task Force on Laboratory Safety, created by the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities.

“The Chemical Safety Board’s action is the result of a focused and deliberate effort by many people across all of Texas Tech’s departments and offices,” said Robert V. Duncan, senior vice president of research at Texas Tech. “Our efforts have resulted in an improved culture of safety awareness across campus and a commitment to operate safely in our studios and laboratories. I greatly appreciate the excellent leadership from everyone who has made this possible.”

The explosion, which happened Jan. 7, 2010, involved the handling of a high-energy metal compound that suddenly detonated. Texas Tech had entered into an agreement with Northeastern University, which holds a contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to study the high-energy materials. More information is available here.


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