This story is included in the fifth volume of Safety Partners’ publication, “Incidents, Accidents, and Near Misses in Laboratory Research.”
It was late on a Monday afternoon and I was having a weekly meeting with three of my research staff to go over the data they had collected the week before. Lucy was in the middle of explaining her graph to me when…
It sounded like a gunshot going off, followed by the loudest hissing I had ever heard. Now it sounded like a rocket was about to take off. Then there came the distinct sound of a gaint metal cylinder trying to topple over. ”Oh no” I thought to myself, while my three staff members looked at me dumbfounded. “What on earth was that!?”
We rushed down the hall to see what had happened, just in time to see our research technician, John, turning the regulator off on the carbon dioxide tank.
Too Much Pressure
John was a technician in the lab. He was fresh out of college and eager to learn. One of the older graduate students had given him the task of changing out the regulator on the lab’s carbon dioxide tank.
The tank provides carbon dioxide to our cell culture incubators, to keep the cells under similar conditions that they would have if they were still growing in someone’s body. The tank was rather large and heavy, so it was strapped against the wall to keep it from tipping over.
When dealing with compressed gas, always make sure the regulator and tubing are rated to handle the correct amount of pressure.
John had changed the regulator but didn’t realize that the new regulator released the gas at a higher pressure than the previous one. Not knowing this, John had attached the same tubing that was used with the previous regulator. When John turned the valve to fully open the tank and the gas started to release, it was too much pressure for the tubing, and it popped off the fitting ring it was on (this was the bang that we heard).
Meanwhile, carbon dioxide is rapidly flowing from the tank, making the extremely loud hissing noise. It was enough pressure that had the tank not been strapped down it would certainly have tipped over and maybe even gone for a ride down the hallway.
When using large cylinders, always make sure they are strapped down correctly.
Safety rules are in place for a reason and can save you from potentially dangerous situations.
A Good Scare
“My heart is racing!” said Lucy. “Mine too!” I said.
“Imagine how I feel!” said John.
Poor John was extremely embarrassed about what had just happened. He had assumed that since the tubing had worked on the old regulator, it would also work on the new one. He wasn’t aware that the tubing could only have the capacity to withstand a certain amount of pressure.
When I told John the unfortunate news, he simply said, “Does my name have to be on it?” You could see how humiliated he was. The silver lining of this whole story is that there was one key part of the apparatus that had been hooked up correctly.
That was the safety strap. If that strap hadn’t been in place, there’s a good possibility the entire cylinder would have tipped over and put a hole in the wall, or worse, it could have really hurt someone. To me, it was a clear example of why safety training needs to take place.
Despite nothing dangerous happening, this was certainly a near-miss situation that needed to be reported.