Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.
This alert is to raise awareness about the potential for serious injuries that could result from the unsafe storage and disposal of old laboratory samples with unknown or unidentified chemicals.
In 2013 an explosion occurred at an environmental science facility while workers were discarding old biological samples into a box for disposal. One worker was injured from flying shards of glass and the shock waves from the explosion and another suffered temporary hearing loss.
During the fire investigation it was determined that the facility stored biological samples collected in the 1960s and 1970s. There were also samples brought in from another facility (a museum) that dated back to the 1920s.
The biological samples had been stored in a preservative in glass vials or jars, many of which were not labelled. Over time, the preservative had evaporated resulting in samples that were unstable and could explode on impact. It is believed that some of the samples at the facility had been stored in formalin or isopropanol, others may have been stored in picric acid, which is very volatile and explosive when it dries to a crystal state. Picric acid can also react with common metals to form picrates or salts that are shock sensitive. These salts could form if, for example, the sample is stored in a glass jar with a metal lid.
This alert applies to workplaces where similar laboratory samples may be stored in educational, healthcare or research facilities such as schools, universities, colleges, hospitals, museums and any other workplace.
Contact the Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.
Remember that while complying with occupational health and safety laws, you are also required to comply with applicable environmental laws.
Permission is granted to photocopy Ministry of Labour alerts. Please distribute them widely and post them where people will see them.
Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.
It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.
While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.