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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

 
 

The Ion has announced its latest startup-focused program. MediaTech Venture's Houston startup incubator is launching next month. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Houston has a new incoming incubator program for innovators within the media technology space.

The Ion announced a new partnership with MediaTech Ventures, an Austin-based global media industry venture development company, that will bring the MediaTech incubator program to Houston. Applications are open now, and the first cohort will kick off the program in January.

“Modern media has to continually evolve and adapt to new market channels, and with each platform comes the opportunity for innovation to leverage what is possible. It’s why Houston continues to build its market and resources for media technology entrepreneurs and startups looking to make an impact in this constantly evolving space,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in a news release.

“We’re thrilled to partner with MediaTech Ventures to further bolster the startups that are an integral part of our innovation community," he continues.

The 12-week program will help early-stage companies tackle marketing, development, and production with education and mentorship with MediaTech Ventures' startup curriculum and platform. The Ion will house the initiative and startups will have access to the hub for programming and networking.

“Ion is the perfect home for our incubator program,” says Josh Sutton, Houston Program Manager at MediaTech Ventures, in the release. “Our goal is to not only tap into the Ion’s valuable innovation ecosystem both within its four walls and beyond it, but to catalyze the development of media technologies and offer more resources for entrepreneurs looking to advance modern media.”

Founded in 2016 to advance the media technology economy, MediaTech Ventures focuses on "unifying innovation with capital, and validating and scaling technology-enabled media startups," per the news release. The program's startups have raised over $10 million following the completion of the curriculum.

An info session is taking place on December 5 at Second Draught in the Ion, and interested applicants can meet, ask questions, and learn more about the program.

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