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State agrees to reduced violations, fines in UH lab explosion

  • HONOLULU FIRE DEPARTMENT

    This photo provided by the Honolulu Fire Department shows the damaged University of Hawaii laboratory following the March 16th explosion that severely injured a graduate student.

The state has reduced violations and fines for the University of Hawaii in connection with the March 16 explosion at a laboratory where a researcher lost an arm.

In response to prompt actions taken after the blast to prevent a recurrence, a settlement agreement was reached Thursday with the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Office reducing the number of violations cited from 15 to nine and lowering fines from $115,500 to $69,300.

“The university is working diligently to address the remaining violations, further strengthen the culture of safety and foster an environment where hazard recognition and risk assessment are the standard of care for all activities,” said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

Among the changes since the blast is the establishment of a chemical and physical hazards committee to promote greater awareness on health and safety at research laboratories.

The Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division issued UH a citation two weeks ago that listed 15 violations in its investigation of the explosion, and both parties subsequently met.

The explosion occurred at a laboratory operated by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute located in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology building. Thea Ekins-Coward, 29, a postdoctoral fellow, was working on a mixture of low-pressure hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen when the portable metal cylinder the gases were contained in exploded.

Ekins-Coward lost an arm and suffered other injures in the explosion.

About a month after the blast, the Honolulu Fire Department said its investigation determined the explosion was likely caused by a digital pressure gauge in the tank that produced an electrical spark, which detonated the flammable gas in the tank.

An independent investigation conducted by a team from the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety concluded the explosion was likely caused by static electricity. The report said the gauge was not inside the tank, and that detonation was caused by an electrostatic charge, accumulated by the gas storage tank or by Ekins-Coward herself, that was released when she touched a metal housing as she attempted to turn off the gauge.

Settlement Agreement (HIOSH) by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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  • This is bs. Would HIOSH have reduced the fines if it involved an non-State agency? Anyway, it’s Peter robbing Paul so it really does nothing for safety. Get the Feds to investigate and levy fines.

  • When the University (or any other state agency) allows researchers to use State facilities, who is responsible for the lab? Does the state or UH tell the researches how to set up the lab, or do the researches determine that? I haven’t seen any articles that says who controls how the lab is set up and run. And maybe it depends on the type of work being done? Does anyone know the answer?

    • Agree. Strange way to shift money around within State departments. I guess with so much of this island being government that we will see more of this in the future in an attempt to shift money around.

  • Just blame the woman who lost her arm, why don’t you?
    “…or by Ekins-Coward herself, that was released when she touched a metal housing as she attempted to turn off the gauge….”

    Give this kind of consideration to small business when they have an “accident”.
    A bunch of BS.

    • Wait, we don’t know if the researcher was responsible or not. NONE of the articles the Star-Advertiser published has indicated who had control over the lab set-up. It could have been the researcher, or it could have been someone else. I know it’s hard to point fingers at the person who was injured, but what if someone else, like a student walking past in the hallway, had been the one to get hurt from the explosion? Would we automatically say the researcher was not at fault? I’m not willing to say one way or the other until the paper puts out more facts.

  • No matter who gets fined or what amount they are mandated to pay, it’s OUR money. People responsible should be fined and money taken out of their pockets instead of paying restitution with somebody else’s money.

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