Investigating entity hired by UH founded after similar laboratory explosion


With the completion of the Honolulu Fire Department’s investigation into a lab explosion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the focus now will be on other investigations still underway.

On March 16, a visiting researcher lost part of her arm in a blast that occurred in a basement laboratory in the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology (POST) building.

The fire department’s investigation determined the explosion was accidental, and was ignited by a spark from a digital pressure gauge that should not have been used there.

The state labor department is looking into the incident, and UH has hired an independent investigator, an organization that’s all too familiar with this type of incident.

The UC Center for Laboratory Safety was created because of an explosion at UCLA eight years ago. In that case, a research assistant died, and criminal charges were filed against her professor and the university.

Pictures sent to us by the Honolulu Fire Department show a powerful blast that tore through the ceiling, knocking down shelves and scattering all types of lab equipment throughout the basement.

It’s hauntingly similar to the picture sent to us by the Los Angeles deputy district attorney of the lab explosion at UCLA.

“There do appear to be some similarities in the case in Hawaii and the case that we prosecuted in California,” said LA Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Carl Hum. “In the California case, the victim was using improper procedures and improper equipment and the resulting explosion killed her.”

Hum say criminal charges were filed against the researcher’s professor and UCLA after the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled that violations occurred due to improper training.

In the UH incident, the Hawaii Occupational Safety Hazard (HIOSH) is also investigating. KHON2 went to its office for more information.

We wanted to ask HIOSH investigators exactly what they’re looking for and how long it would take. A spokesman says at this point, they cannot comment.

Hum says the investigation by HIOSH could determine whether criminal violations could also happen here.

“Certainly if a violation of (HIOSH) regulations is a criminal violation — and it is in California — if that’s the case in Hawaii, then it could lead to criminal prosecution,” he said.

A HIOSH spokesman says violations here can be criminal, but they are rare.

The fire department’s investigation also revealed that there was a small explosion at UH just days before the incident that was never reported to them.

The victim says she did report it to her superior, but was told “don’t worry about it,” according to the report.

We asked UH how much training lab researchers get, and were told all university employees working in a lab environment are required to take a two-hour safety class, and are supposed to take a refresher course every year.

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