Chemical Waste Explosion Drives Home Importance of Employer & First Responder Relationships

Yesterday four people were taken to the hospital for treatment for cuts and abrasions in the aftermath of a chemical waste explosion at a Texas Tech University chemistry lab in Lubbock, Texas.

University officials confirmed that the explosion was caused by chemical waste, but declined to name the specific chemical(s) that had caused the accident.

This is not the only recent explosion accident faced by Texas Tech. In 2010 a student lost three fingers and injured an eye in a lab explosion, and in 2011 there were two recorded explosions on campus—one in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Building, and the other in the Nanotechnology Building. These previous incidents prompted an audit of lab safety procedures at the university.

OSHA standards require workplaces to control and prevent dangers like explosions that could result from hazardous chemical waste. Though it can take many forms, this waste often arises as a byproduct of chemical usage or when chemicals with known hazards are combined. According to OSHA: “When chemical reactions are not properly managed, they can have harmful, or even catastrophic consequences, such as toxic fumes, fires, and explosions.”

Both OSHA and the EPA recommend the following steps to mitigate reactive chemical waste dangers:

  • Communicate and Train on Chemical Reactivity Hazards—Clearly stating all potential hazards and actions to be taken if problems occur
  • Identify Process Controls and Risk Options—To guard against inadvertent mixing or incorrect handling
  • Manage Process Knowledge—Consistently updating information about chemical dangers from organizations, technical societies, and governmental entities
  • Conduct Process Hazard Analysis—Test knowledge and “what if” scenarios
  • Consider Abnormal Situations—Many accidents occur in unforeseen conditions
  • Conduct Frequent Audits—Verify that reactive chemical hazards are understood by operating personnel and built into operating procedures

It is also recommended that employers, especially those with chemical laboratories common on college and high school campuses, share information about onsite hazardous chemicals and related hazards with local first responders. (Eight fire department units and a hazmat team responded to yesterday’s emergency at Texas Tech.)  An excellent tool for this is MSDSonline’s new Plan 1 First Responder Share Service.

Plan 1 gives users of MSDSonline’s HQ and HQ RegXR accounts a way to efficiently and easily share their hazardous chemical inventory information with local first responders. Developed cooperatively with MSDSonline customers and first responders, Plan 1 allows users to seamlessly distribute their chemical information to firefighters, police, and EMTs that might respond in the event of an accident. In addition to chemical information, users can easily share safety data sheets, indexed product summaries, facility floor plans, and chemical container maps. All of this can be easily updated whenever the information changes. First responders can easily access it from any device with an internet connection.

MSDSonline also offers the Lab Standard Webinar covering vital chemical safety education information that workplaces — like university labs that use hazardous chemicals — need to know in order to protect against chemical reactions, chemical waste reactions, and related accidents. The Lab Standard Webinar covers Chemical Hygiene Plans (CHPs), Chemical Hygiene Officers (CHOs), HazCom, GHS adoption, labels and much more.

To learn more about the Lab Standard Webinar, or to register, click here.

To learn more about MSDSonline’s Plan 1, visit the Plan 1 webpage here.