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University of Houston: Navigating incident reporting in the lab

Innovation isn't always the safest field. Here's what to consider within incident reporting. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Exploding refrigerator? Chemical splash on the face? These are not just personally devastating lab incidents, they are also expensive.

For instance, awhile back, the University of Hawaii faced a total $115,500 fine for 15 workplace safety violations after a laboratory explosion where a postdoctoral researcher lost one of her arms. Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote in Science that the accident “resulted from a static electricity charge that ignited a tank containing a highly flammable, pressurized mixture of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.”

Referred to as “incidents,” they are defined by University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in this way: “An incident is an event that results in or causes injury or damage to someone or something, or an event that has the potential to result in or cause injury or damage.”

But when asked which incidents are reportable, the answer is uniform across all research universities: all incidents must be reported.

Incidentally...

There are websites dedicated to laboratory accidents, like this one at UCSB. It lists the two accidents mentioned in this blog’s first sentence. University of Michigan Environment, Health and Safety’s website said, “Being safe at the University of Michigan requires a positive safety culture where we learn from mistakes and near-misses in order to improve and prevent future occurrences. It is vital that you report all ‘incidents’ including near- misses, injuries resulting from your activities, non-compliance with safety and environmental rules, and general unsafe work conditions so that we can learn and grow.” Northwestern University’s website on Research Health and Safety said, “Always report ‘near-misses’ just as you would an incident that causes injury or harm to property.”

Near-missing

You may be asking, what constitutes a “near-miss”? At Western Kentucky University, for example: “A laboratory “near-miss” is an unplanned situation, where with minor changes to time or setting, could have easily resulted in damage or injury to person or property. A near-miss is characterized as having little, if any, immediate impact on individuals, processes, or the environment, but provides insight into accidents that could happen.” Laboratory near misses may cause chemical spills, explosions and bodily injury, but can be treated with first-aid.

Form finding

Most universities have a form to fill out if there is an incident that could have led to a severe injury or death. The form asks for a description of the incident and even asks, in some instances, “Why did it happen?” These should be made out comprehensively and quickly.

OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a reporting process, aside from what each university requires. They need information when you call. The OSHA website states: “Be prepared to supply: Business name; names of employees affected; location and time of the incident, brief description of the incident; contact person and phone number.”

There are even time limits for how quickly one must report a severe injury that requires an in-patient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye (24) or fatality.

(It’s eight hours.)

The fact that “losing an eye” is one of just four reasons to contact OSHA, you may wonder, “Are a lot of people blinded in the lab, often?” Also, “Where can I buy safety goggles?”

“Are a lot of people blinded in the lab, often? Also, where can I buy safety goggles?”

The big idea

There are many websites which detail lab disasters. Some are cautionary tales, some are avoidable situations. Just be sure to wear your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and be safe out there. Or rather, in there.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

VR training startup, HTX Labs, has raised funding from an outside investor for the first time. Courtesy of HTX Labs

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money.

"Cypress has a decade-long track record of success in helping emerging software and services companies achieve scale," he continues. "It is clear that the team’s collective entrepreneurial and operating experience will be of tremendous benefit to us as we focus on expanding our customer base in a very intentional way.”

The fresh funding will go toward growing and scaling the company's operations — both within the current Department of Defense and expansion opportunities into key commercial markets, like heavy industry, manufacturing, and higher education. Additionally, the funding will support increased customer adoption.

“Scott and his team have built an exceptional business that is poised for dramatic growth,” says Cypress Partner Pat McCaffrey in the release. “HTX Labs’ modern, immersive training solution provides clients with a force multiplier for modernizing training and an unmatched ROI.”

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