Lesson Learned - Chemical Explosion Causes Eye Injury

ANSI-approved safety glasses—and other personal protective equipment specified in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)—are essential whenever working with hazardous materials. SOPs also indicate other precautions that must be followed to ensure safety, such as performing work with energetic or explosive materials behind a fume hood sash or blast shield. Download a printer-friendly PDF.

What happened?

A graduate student researcher was working at a laboratory bench synthesizing approximately one gram of diazonium perchlorate crystals. The student was transferring synthesized perchlorate using a metal spatula when the material exploded, sending porcelain fragments into his face. The fragments shattered the lenses of his eyeglasses and lacerated his left cornea.

A researcher in an adjacent room assisted the student to the eyewash and called campus police. The student was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery on his eye, and treatment for several facial lacerations. He was released from the hospital that same evening.

What went right?

  • The student was wearing a flame-resistant (FR) coat and nitrile gloves, as called for in the relevant SOP.1
  • The student had previously read and signed the relevant SOP, and had completed EHS 101: Laboratory Safety Fundamentals training.
  • Emergency protocol was followed once the incident took place (eye wash, contacting emergency personnel).

What should have been done differently?

  • The student was not wearing ANSI-approved safety glasses as is called for in the SOP and in UC policy.
  • The student was alone in the room while working with highly hazardous materials.
  • The work was being performed on an open benchtop, without the use of a fume hood sash or blast shield.
  • The transfer was performed using a metal spatula, while the SOP calls for use of a non-metal one.

1Standard Operating Procedure for Potentially Explosive Compounds

What was the cause of the explosion?

Perchlorate salts are unstable and potentially explosive. Most likely, the explosion was caused by friction between the metal spatula and the porcelain funnel. An igniting static charge may have been produced from the metal spatula as well.


Photo 1 - Researcher’s glasses after explosion. One lens and a temple bar have been blown away. The other lens is shattered.

What corrective actions have been taken?

Since the accident, the research group members met to discuss the incident and establish corrective actions. Researchers in that lab have reviewed and signed the latest SOP for Potentially Explosive Compounds (PEC).

As a new precaution, researchers in this lab are expected to write the chemical and corresponding H-code2 in their lab notebook for all reactions, and then again review the latest SOP any time materials with high-risk H-codes (ending in “0” or “1”) will be used.

Finally, any researchers in this lab working with any amounts of perchlorates are now required to obtain advance written approval for the work from the principal investigator (PI).

2An alphanumeric code corresponding to the hazard statement associated with a chemical, according to theGlobally Harmonized System (GHS) for hazard classification.