Lab accident in Electrical Engineering Department


Rohitha Naraharisetty writes about the unfortunate incident that happened recently in the Electrical Engineering Department where an MS scholar met with an accident while working in the lab.

<We would like to thank Prof. Harishankar Ramachandran, HOD, Electrical Engineering Department and Prof. Amitava DasGupta, one of the research supervisors of Shelly Agarwal for their inputs.>

Shelly Agarwal, an MS student in her third year met with an accident while working in the Microelectronics Lab here on Thursday, 11th November around 1 PM. The incident took place in her wet bench room, with the fume hood shutter partially open. The exhaust was turned on and her hands were inside when some concentrated nitric acid exploded, leaving her rather seriously injured.

A Fume Hood: Picture for representative purpose only

Within seconds of the explosion, she was still found standing and was pulled out of the area by her fellow lab students in the vicinity as well as the staff, and was promptly rushed to the institute hospital by the Electrical Engineering faculty. She was then shifted to Apollo Hospitals within no time, and was attended to by the institute CMO Dr. Mahalakshmi who remained with Shelly until after she was operated upon and her condition was stable.

The primary concern regarding Shelly’s condition was the blood loss. She is reported to have required ten units of blood. There were however many volunteers whose timely donation helped her condition immensely.

Following this incident, there remains the question of lab safety protocol followed and enforced by the institute. In this regard, we have reached out to the Prof. Harishankar Ramachandran, head of the department of Electrical Engineering. He has stated that students with ongoing research work at the Microelectronics lab, Photonics lab, and other such labs, necessarily undergo training sessions equipping them for working in these facilities. It is only after completing this training period that they are allowed to work in the aforementioned places. Automatic safety systems, he says, are in place in all such facilities; however they cannot ensure one hundred percent safeguarding from such incidents.

When asked what is to be done in order to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future, some of the measures he has stated were as follows:

1. Intensifying the training process in order to better handle lab equipment.

2. Periodically renew training of all lab personnel and prevent complacency about lab safety measures.

3. Provide training on how to act in case of such a situation in the future, and preparing students and staff on providing quick and timely aid.

We have gained access to the lab safety manual for the Microelectronics lab, which comprehensively covers all safety measures. There is a safety test that is conducted upon entry for every student wishing to work at any given time. Another specific set of instructions have been given for those wishing to just enter and exit  wet labs. Further, wet labs inside are only made accessible for use with the appropriate, additional personal protective equipment.

In the aftermath of this unfortunate incident, Prof. Amitava Dasgupta, wishes to make the following statement: “We do not know the reason behind the incident fully. Either we or the students may have become complacent about following the safety protocols. Whatever may be the cause of the incident, this incident gives us the following important message: Since an accident can occur at any time, it is important that students and staff strictly follow all the laboratory precautions at all times. Following this accident, we plan to take stricter measures to reduce agents of distraction in labs,  further strengthen the safety protocols and be more vigilant in implementing them.”

While Shelly’s condition is now stable and she is improving, she still has some way to go and remains in the CCU with restricted visitors’ entry. It is therefore pertinent to keep in mind that such incidents have the potential to take a serious turn for the worse, if not for the intervention of people present at the accident site. It is evident that existing precautionary measures do leave a small window for such an occurrence, and hopefully the suggestions put forth by faculty will soon be implemented strictly to prevent episodes of such a nature again.

We wish Shelly a speedy recovery.

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