Engineering | Safe Engineering

A graduate student and firefighter were injured as a result of an explosion at the University of Florida. A similar incident occurred in this same laboratory and chemical in October.

Sisler Hall on the University of Florida campus. Work is suspended at a chemistry lab in the building, where an explosion occurred.

Graduate student Khanh Ha, of 27- years-old, was in Sisler Hall’s laboratory working with sodium azide with the explosion occurred. He incurred serious injuries to his face, hand, and body. As of Thursday he is still hospitalized, according to the University of Florida.

A responding firefighter, Andrew Marsh, had minor chemical burns to his face and eyes but is reported to be in good condition by the Gainesville Fire Rescue team.

As per investigation, the Sisler Hall was closed Thursday by the UF’s Environmental Health and Safety department.

There are not believed to be any threats to others in the hall but it will remain closed for a few days to ensure this, as stated by UF environmental health and safety director ,William Properzio.

“We don’t want to risk it just on an assumption,” he said. “This is not an insignificant kind of thing.”

The explosion involved sodium azide, which is commonly found in automobile airbags. It is also utilized as a chemical preservative in laboratories and hospitals. Sodium azide changes rapidly to a toxic gas when it comes into contact with a metal.

It was reported by the District Fire Chief Jeff Lane that Ha suffered a wound to his upper body, injuries and burns to his face that were prevented from being worse by protective glass. Marsh was outfitted with a face mask upon responding to the scene, and the chemicals are suspected to have run onto his face through his sweat, Lane stated.

After the explosion a faucet was left running which caused water damage and leakage that may have run into other chemicals on the floor below.

In October, it was documented that an explosion occurred at the same lab involving the same chemical. According to the UF police report, the student involved was Mohamed Ibrahim and he suffered injuries to his face from shatter glass when the flask exploded.  He was attempting to scrape residue from the flask while not wearing protective equipment.

In response to this earlier explosion Properzio said that UF made strides in providing additional training and unannounced inspections. It was noted in the recent incident that the student was wearing protective equipment and the chemical was contained in an area with shatterproof glass.

“It could have been worse,” Properzio said. “Some of the things that we’re preaching to them in terms of safety are being followed, it seems.”

The owner of the San Diegan consulting company Advanced Chemical Safety, Neal Langerman, has spoken out about safety problems in academic research laboratories. He said that typically incidents involve students or post-graduate researchers because they are the ones doing the laboratory work.

“At many universities, particularly leading research universities, there is a lack of safety awareness throughout the entire organizational structure,” he said.

For more information visit the The Gainesville Sun article.

If there are any concerns or questions regarding health and safety within a laboratory, please contact John Crozier at 480-925-8498.