Safety, Health and Wellbeing

Hazard alerts

Our role is to develop and assist in the implementation of the UWA safety, health and wellbeing programs in order to minimise the risk of injury, illness and property damage.

We provide consultancy and other services to promote best practice and legislative compliance in all University and related activities.

Further Information

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Hazard Alert - Hot Water Urns

Many areas have continuously operating urns that normally only provide a few cups of hot water at a time. Draining these urns creates a potential fire risk and should be avoided. The transport of hot water should not put at risk any person in the event of a spillage. Report any hot water leakage problems from urns on 6488 2025 (urgent minor maintenance). For further information see the Campus Management Procedure on Boiling Water Units.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 8 October 2001 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Portable Heaters

It is University policy that all portable heaters must be fan-forced (not bar), limited to 1500 watts and are hardwire-fitted with a one-hour timer. For further assistance with this requirement contact Campus Management Electrical on 6488 2016. Further guidance is available in the University's Portable Fans and Room Heaters and Air Conditioners guidelines. Bar heaters mounted on walls are permitted.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 8 October 2001 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Electrical Safety

A microwave oven once overheated and activated the building fire detection system. It was found that the oven fuse had been wrapped in foil, compromising an important safety feature. This action of an unauthorised electrical modification is illegal and recklessly put at risk the building and its occupants. Persons undertaking such will face disciplinary action. All electrical work must comply with the University's Electrical Safety procedure.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 8 October 2001 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Ethidium Bromide Disposal

Ethidium bromide (EtBr) is classed as a mutagen and possible carcinogen and teratogen and must not be disposed of without deactivation.

Safe deactivation methods

Ethidium bromide is normally used in small quantities and can be removed from solution using activated charcoal in commercially available ‘Tea’ Bags.

Previously deactivation with bleach was recommended. The new method is equally effective, but does not include the risks associated with the bleach method.

Preparation (liquid waste)

  • Accumulated liquid waste should be stored safely before deactivation.
  • Store in a large pre-cleaned winchester/flask.
  • Label the flask appropriately.
  • Keep a clear record of the amount of EtBr in the solution.

Deactivation – using ‘Tea’ Bags

  • Wear protective gloves, lab coat and goggles.
  • Place one ‘Tea’ Bag into the ethidium bromide solution (check manufacturer's instructions for how many bags to add for your volume of EtBr in solution).
  • Allow to sit for the allotted time – instructions are on ‘Tea’ Bag kit.
  • Pour filtrate down the drain.
  • Dispose of the used bag with biohazardous waste for incineration.

See a list of suppliers below

After deactivation

After deactivation check for satisfactory decontamination of the solution by adding some DNA to a sample and waiting 15 minutes before checking for fluorescence under a UV light. If fluorescence occurs the solution requires further decontamination.

‘Tea’ Bags MUST NOT be disposed of with normal waste. They MUST go for incineration.

Disposal of electrophoresis gels

Gels MUST be incinerated with biohazard waste. It is best to do this as soon as possible after use. If gels are left for too long the ethidium bromide could dry out to a powder.

Solid ethidium bromide waste

Solid ethidium bromide should always be handled in a fume cupboard. Waste should be dissolved in water before deactivation as liquid waste following the method above.

Note! Ethidium bromide as a powder is much more hazardous than in solution or gel. Buy solutions when possible and always read the material safety data sheet (MSDS) very carefully.

Hazards and controls for working with ethidium bromide solution or gel

Ethidium bromide is a mutagen and possible carcinogen and teratogen.When used in electrophoresis gels, EtBr is often bound to compounds that cross the cell membrane so there is an increased risk of it being transported into cells and the mutagenic properties being realised.

  • Wear NITRILE gloves when using ethidium bromide. Latex gloves offer very poor protection from EtBr.
  • Use a less toxic alternative – EZ-VISION from Amresco or SYBER Safe by Invitrogen. Ethidium bromide as a powder is extremely hazardous.
  • Dispose of gels immediately after use to ensure they do not dry out.

'Tea' Bag suppliers

Amresco destaining bags E732, $72.10 per 25, distributed by Astral Scientific.

AMRESCO offers destaining bags to remove ethidium bromide from solution during overnight treatment. Each bag extracts up to 5 mg of EtBr from solution.

Green Bag® Kits are manufactured by BIO 101, distributed through Mp Biomedicals to Australian Biosearch. One kit has the capacity to remove 500 mg of EtBr from solutions (10mg EtBr/bag).

Other bags may be available. We do not necessarily recommend those listed above – they are simply a few known suppliers to help you.

Chemical handling must be carried out with great care. Obtain and read the manufacturer's MSDS for every chemical used.

  • Find out beforehand the correct treatment, in the case of an accident, for the harmful effects of hazardous materials.
  • Use the minimum amount of any chemical and if there is a choice, use the least toxic or least flammable substances (consider EZ-VISION from Amresco or SYBER Safe by Invitrogen).
  • Use correct handling methods, protective devices and clothing required for the particular substance (gloves, lab coat, eye protection).
  • Clearly label all containers and include a 'mutagen' warning label. Always carry out correct storage and disposal procedures.
  • Lock scheduled drugs and poisons in a cupboard.
  • Wash hands after handling chemicals..
Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date November 2010 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - 'A' Frame Signs

Some UWA departments are using portable "A frame" signs on campus to provide additional signage to direct people to various locations. An example is shown here.

The size and design of a number of these signs mean there is a serious risk of injury to hands or backs when moving them. In particular, signs that have a removable latch that allows the sign to open and close are a risk to finger injury.

A Frame Sign A Frame Sign Handle

Use of these signs on UWA grounds is to be avoided where possible for to safety and aesthetic reasons. If you currently have a sign that does not meet all of the following criteria, please contact us for more information:

  1. size must be less than 1000 x 600mm
  2. fixed in one (open) position
  3. secured to an immovable object
  4. has wheels attached
  5. has handle(s) attached.

If you are contemplating replacing or introducing an "A frame" sign in your area please contact Simon Chapman (FM) or Averil Riley (S and H) to discuss the University Signage Guidelines before proceeding.

Responsible Occupational Therapist Approved by S and H Manager Date 26 September 2001 File ref F3104

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Hazard Alert - Centrifuge
Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date May 1999 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Solvent Fire and Explosion

What happened

A distillation of hexane under inert gas atmosphere was being conducted in a fume cupboard in a research laboratory when a fire and explosion occurred, resulting in a student receiving significant thermal burns to his arms, hands, legs, torso and head. He was conveyed by ambulance to hospital and spent 18 days in the burns unit undergoing skin grafting and other treatments. The explosion was clearly heard at a police station more than a kilometre away.

Contributing factors

There were numerous factors, which contributed to the occurrence and severity of the incident, as follows:

  1. Procedural issues
    A tap through which vapour would usually vent from the distillation apparatus was left closed. This meant that the heated vessel of solvent was effectively sealed, and pressure would have built up in the apparatus until part of it gave way, at which time the superheated solvent vapourised.

    The heating mantle used to heat the distillation flask was plugged directly into the mains power outlet, with no power regulation device used. As a consequence, the full heating power of the mantle was applied to the flask of hexane continuously, contributing to the incident.
  2. Protective clothing
    The injured student was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, shoes, socks, and safety glasses at the time of the explosion. Had they been wearing long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and flame-retardant laboratory coat, then it is likely that the extent and severity of burns sustained would have been significantly diminished. Their eyes were protected since they were wearing safety glasses at the time.
  3. Engineering controls
    There were purpose-built, ventilated distillation cabinets available within the department, but these were generally used for the distillation of more common solvents.

    The fume cupboards used for this procedure are not free of potential ignition sources. Had this been the case then the hexane vapour would not have ignited and the fire and explosion would not have occurred. It is noted that the fume cupboard light fittings were not spark-proof, and that some of the apparatus in the fume cupboard also posed potential ignition sources.

    The fume cupboard did not incorporate a front lip or sump to contain spills, as is now required for fume cupboards under Australian Standards 2243.8-1992.

    A commercial deluge shower is not available in the building concerned. Had a deluge shower been located in the corridor outside the laboratory involved, its prompt use may have reduced the overall severity of the injuries sustained. This also applies to the lack of shower facilities external to the building, where injured persons could be evacuated to during an emergency.


  1. Use of flammable liquids
    A new flammable liquids protocol is being developed for the use of flammable liquids within the department. This protocol uses a tiered hierarchy of controls and safety measures, which become more stringent with increasing volumes of flammable solvent used.

    Power control devices are to be hardwired to heating mantles, to eliminate the possibility of erroneous omission of them from an experimental apparatus.

    Distillation units are to have signage providing vital information about the procedure and emergency instructions.

    Hazards of ether, petrol and other volatile solvents with low flashpoints and auto-ignition temperatures are to be stressed to all personnel.

    That a formal written procedure be developed for all hazardous chemical processes such as the distillation undertaken, and a brief written checklist developed, which can be quickly completed prior to work, to ensure compliance with the procedure.
  2. Alternative procedure
    A feasibility study is conducted of an alterative (less inherently hazardous) solvent purification procedure, which has recently been reported in the scientific literature. If practical to do so then this alternative procedure should be adopted by the department.
  3. Clothing
    Protective clothing to be worn at all times in tempered air laboratories will include laboratory coats in addition to the enclosed footwear and safety glasses currently required. When using flammable solvents, the laboratory coat used will be of flame-retardant material.
  4. Safety equipment
    Commercial deluge showers and eyewash facilities were recommended for all laboratory corridors and other specific hazard areas within the department.

    Acquisition of self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and provision of suitable training in its use was recommended for departmental personnel who may need to deal with chemical spills, and some other situations.

    A number of spare fire extinguishers should be available to facilitate immediate replacement of used extinguishers in high-hazard areas. These should be of the same type as those they are used to replace.

    Fixed fire suppression systems be considered for high-fire-hazard areas in the building.
  5. Building
    Fume cupboards to be upgraded to meet current Australian Standards.

    Provision of tempered air is investigated for some laboratories, which become particularly hot during the warmer months of the year. This makes the enforcement of the wearing of suitable protective clothing more practicable and reduces the risk of creating a hazardous situation when handling and storing solvents with lower boiling points.
  6. Training
    While the operator had received training in the conduct of solvent distillations, this training had not been formally documented.

    An additional intense week of practical safety training is provided during the first week of third year for all undergraduate students, and to all new research students and personnel to the department.
Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date August 2000 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Laser Pointer Warning

Legislative requirements for laser pointers

Laser pointers, whilst a useful training tool, can present a hazard capable of causing harm to eyes. They have recently become relatively common and have unfortunately been misused on humans. One incident in Western Australia resulted in permanent eye damage to a 12-year-old boy.

Since 1 June 2000 it has been an offence under the WA Radiation Safety Act to manufacture, sell, possess or use a laser pointer with a classification exceeding Class 1 or Class 2 as defined in Australian/New Zealand Standard 2211.

Laser pointers are effective tools when used properly. The following considerations should be observed when using laser pointers:

  • Use only laser pointers with AS/NZS 2211 classification Class 1 or Class 2.
  • Class 2 lasers are labelled "Caution: Laser Radiation. Do not stare into the beam. Class 2 Laser Product."
  • Never look directly into the laser beam.
  • Never point a laser beam at a person.
  • Do not aim the laser at reflective surfaces.
  • Do not allow children to use laser pointers unless under the supervision of an adult.

For further information contact UWA Safety and Health on 6488 3938 or 6488 7932.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date August 2000 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Formic Acid Explosion

What happened

An explosion involving formic acid occurred within the storage compartment underneath a fume cupboard in a UWA undergraduate laboratory. The force of the explosion blew out the plastic panelling of the storage compartment and extensively damaged the sink and plumbing in the fume cupboard.

All but three of the nine glass winchesters of chemicals in the storage compartment were broken and glass, chemicals and plastic debris forcefully blown throughout the laboratory. The explosion occurred at 7.40pm on a weeknight and fortunately no one was injured.

Cause of the explosion

The most likely cause of the explosion was a build up of pressure in a formic acid winchester. Formic acid (HCO2H) slowly decomposes with the liberation of carbon monoxide. A 2.5 litre bottle of 98-100 per cent formic acid solution in the absence of a gas leak would be expected to develop a pressure of seven atmospheres during one year at 25ºC. While manufacturers have been using pressure relieving caps for many years it may be possible to seal these bottles with non-venting caps, or for older stock to be held that does not have this venting facility.

It should be noted that whereas some manufacturers' material safety data sheets (MSDS) clearly state that 98-100 per cent formic acid should be "stored in vented containers to permit release of internal pressure", some MSDS stated that the chemical should be "kept in a tightly closed container".


If old stocks of formic acid are held that do not have venting caps and that have not been opened recently, it is recommended that expert advice and assistance be sought to safely vent these containers.

A storeman at the University of Sydney lost an eye when a bottle of formic acid exploded as he lifted it off a shelf. All containers of formic acid should have vented caps or be safely vented on a regular basis.

For information on formic acid and other potentially explosive laboratory chemicals see the Australian National University (ANU) hazard alert.

Follow-up actions at UWA

A thorough chemical safety audit of the UWA department was conducted following the incident. The major changes introduced were improvements to the chemical management systems within the department, including:

  • written policies and procedures, including safety booklets
  • safety awareness information, instruction and training of staff and students
  • physical workplace improvements, including equipment and signage
  • supply, handling, storage and disposal of chemicals
  • regular inspections of workplaces and work procedures
  • emergency planning and response procedures.

Some of the specific recommendations made following the thorough chemical safety audit of the department were:

  • up-to-date register of all hazardous substances and dangerous goods required
  • ensure segregation of dangerous goods within all areas
  • dispose of all old or unwanted chemical stocks regularly
  • secure all gas cylinders individually with brackets and chains
  • ensure all laboratory refrigerators are made spark-proof and arelabelled
  • ventilation bungs be replaced in cabinets not mechanically vented
  • Class 3 (Flammable liquids): stored in proper storage cabinets mechanically vented
  • 4.2 (Spontaneously combustible) and 4.3 (Dangerous when wet): used over metal or other fire resistant bunding trays
  • 4.2 (Spontaneously combustible) and 4.3 (Dangerous when wet): buckets of clean dry sand be available for use in case of spillage or fire
  • 5.1 (Oxidising agents): not be stored directly on wooden or other combustible shelves
  • 5.2 (Organic peroxides): stored in plastic bunding trays, check of dried out containers
  • 6.1 (Poisons/toxic): cyanide removal or compliance with regulations
  • 6.1 (Poisons/toxic): storage in locked poisons cabinets
  • 8 (Corrosives): segregation into groups, regular checking of bunded containers
  • unstable chemicals: removal, checking, use
  • chemical spill kits made available
  • register be made available and kept up-to-date for after-hours contact
  • emergency information package prepared
  • use of personal protection equipment, including closed shoes, eyewear
  • cleaning out procedures: annual, completion of studies, departures
  • written guidelines, procedures and instructions for storage and use of chemicals
  • establishment of a Departmental Safety Committee
  • regular safety inspection of department
  • improved signposting
  • regular checking of plastic squeeze type eyewash bottles
  • location and ducting of fume cupboards provision of fire blankets and training in use of these and fire extinguishers
  • mandatory use of safety carriers for transporting winchesters.
Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date August 2000 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Media attention has identified long-distance travel as a potential risk factor for developing deep venous thrombosis/es (DVTs); however, there is currently no authoritative data to show any clear difference in the incidence of DVTs between those who have recently travelled and those who have not.

What is DVT?

DVT is where a small blood clot forms mainly in the deep veins of the legs. DVT is not dangerous in itself but complications arising from it may be life-threatening. Complications occur when a clot breaks away from the wall of the vein to which it is attached and travels through the blood stream to the heart or lungs.

While there is no conclusive evidence that travel, particularly flying, is a specific risk factor for developing DVT, medical research indicates that a number of factors increase the risk of the development of DVT in some groups within the population. Although the media attention has focused on air travel or the 'economy class syndrome' the same risk factors may apply to all types of travel in excess of three hours. Risk factors for possible development of DVT include the following:

DVT risk factors

  • increasing duration of travel
  • cumulative effect of multiple trips
  • prolonged immobility, which may be compounded by obesity or height, restricted leg room, and seated posture including when asleep
  • wearing of tight undergarments or movement restricting clothing
  • dehydration
  • alcohol consumption.

Who is at risk?

  • people over 40
  • pregnant women
  • people with former or current malignant diseases
  • people with blood disorders leading to increased clotting tendency
  • those with a personal or family history of DVT
  • anyone who has had recent major surgery or injury, especially to lower limbs or abdomen
  • women on oestrogen hormone therapy, including oral contraceptives
  • those with a tendency towards heart failure
  • people with varicose veins.
For women who are pregnant or taking oral contraceptives, tobacco smoking is an additional risk factor.

If you meet any of the above criteria it is recommended you consult a medical officer. If you have any other concerns you should consider seeking medical advice prior to travelling in excess of three hours nonstop. DVT development may be avoided by:

  • drinking fluids such as water and juices frequently
  • avoiding excess of alcohol and caffeine containing drinks both before and during travel
  • avoiding smoking
  • avoiding crossing legs when seated
  • exercising by moving legs and feet for three to four minutes per hour while seated, occasionally moving around the cabin while in flight and walking around during stopovers
  • wearing loose-fitting, comfortable clothing when travelling.

The use of aspirin and support stockings is not recommended unless prescribed on a case-by-case basis by a medical officer.

DVTs may not cause symptoms until the blood supply is severely interrupted. If you experience any of the following symptoms following long-distance travel you should seek medical advice without delay:

DVT symptoms

  • unexplained pain
  • sudden swelling
  • enlargement of the superficial veins
  • reddish-blue discolouration
  • skin that is warm to the touch.

Pulmonary embolism is a relatively rare complication of DVT which can be life-threatening. Medical assistance is to be sought immediately if any of the following symptoms are experienced following prolonged travel.

Seek help if any of the following occurs after long travel

  • a feeling of apprehension
  • shortness of breath
  • sharp chest pain
  • rapid pulse
  • sweating
  • cough with bloody sputum
  • fainting.

Reproduced with kind permission from the Department of Defence. This article appeared in The Key, Defence Personnel Executive, April 2001, p. 8,9.

Qantas provides further information for airline travellers (including on DVT).

For further information contact the UWA Safety and Health on 6488 3938 or 6488 7932.

Responsible Radiation Safety Office Approved by S and H Manager Date June 2011 File ref F3104

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Hazard Alert - Cantilever Chairs

A University employee narrowly escaped serious injury when a chair on which they were sitting suddenly collapsed. Observers to the incident confirmed that the employee was simply sitting in the chair and not leaning or putting undue strain on the chair.

The chair (shown below) was cantilever ('S' shaped), constructed from tubular steel with a fabric covered base and separate back rest. The bend on the front legs gave way, causing the seat to fold backwards.

Cantilever Chairs after  Cantilever Chairs before

Factors contributing to the safety of these chairs include the type of steel used, wear and age. Facilities Management (FM) has strengthened some of these chairs by welding a support brace on the base.

To assess the current usage of these chairs throughout the University, departments are requested to notify the UWA Safety and Health (ph. 6488 3938, fax. 6488 1179) of the numbers, brands and age of their cantilever chairs, if they still have any.

Everyone is requested not to lean or swing in chairs and to inform either the UWA Safety and Health or Simon Chapman from FM (ph. 6488 1775) of any defects (such as a bent frames), of chairs and other seating.

All incidents and accidents must be reported to safety personnel and to the UWA Safety and Health.

Written: January 1999

Investigation report - cantilever chairs

Thank you to all staff who responded to the Hazard Alert and article in the University News regarding safety concerns over cantilever chairs.

Investigations have been carried out with departments, Facilities Management, UWA Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, manufacturers of cantilever chairs, Curtin University and the Australian Furniture Research and Development Institute.

As a result of the investigations the following points should be noted:

  • Cantilever chairs have a recommended life expectancy of five to 10 years.
  • Cantilever chairs are not recommended for heavy-use areas.
  • Cantilever chairs used inappropriately, such as by swinging or leaning back on them, greatly increase the risk of damage to the chair.
  • Other design factors that may contribute to the mechanical failure of these chairs include the type of metal used (grade, thickness) and the shape of the metal frame.
  • Repairs to the frames of damaged chairs is not generally recommended, particularly if the chair is more than five years old.
  • A number of chairs in departments were found to be damaged but not reported to the UWA Safety and Health as a hazard.
  1. All cantilever chairs over five years old should be replaced as soon as practicable with four-legged chairs.
  2. All chairs should be replaced every five to 10 years as part of planned maintenance.
  3. If any chairs are damaged, they must be immediately taken out of use. If viable, repairs to damaged chairs may be arranged through Facilities Management.
  4. All hazards and accidents must be reported to UWA Safety and Health on 6488 3938.
Responsible Occupational Therapist Approved by S and H Manager Date April 1999 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Drying Ovens

Use of a drying oven can potentially lead to a fire. Some basic steps can be taken to avoid this situation.

  1. Start the drying oven early in the day to ensure it has reached temperature and can be checked for stability before you leave work for the day.
  2. Check the thermostat regularly to ensure it has an accurate calibration.
  3. If the samples need to be dried over a number of days, start early in the week so it is not left running over the weekend, causing it to be unattended for extended periods of time.
  4. Refer to the manufacturer's manual to determine operating limitations of the oven and have full, clear written instructions on how to use the drying oven near by or on the door of the oven.
  5. If the oven has elements in the bottom of the oven drying area, ensure there is no way for the items you are drying to fall through the shelf directly onto the elements below.
  6. Ensure the equipment is properly maintained and report any faults to your supervisor immediately so they can be rectified.
Hazard Alert - Electric Furnaces and Kilns

A number of areas use electric furnaces and kilns. Some of these have exposed spiral resistive heating elements. Contact with these exposed elements when heating is in progress may lead to an electric shock. The hazard can be increased when metallic or conducting items are heated in the furnace chamber.

Equipment containing such systems should be regularly serviced, and systems instituted to ensure that:

  • interlocks are present to ensure elements are deenergised when the chamber is open
  • there is visual indication that the elements are energised
  • safe systems of work are in place and suitable instruction is given to users.

Older units that have been in service for many years should be appraised by a suitably qualified furnace technician to confirm compliance with current electrical standards.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 26 April 2004 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Hydrogen Explosion in Microbiological Anaerobic Chamber

The incident

An explosion occurred involving a COY Microbiological Anaerobic Chamber of approximately 2m3 capacity, containing an explosive mixture of hydrogen and air. A fire followed the explosion, but that was rapidly extinguished by staff using fire extinguishers, prior to the arrival of fire service personnel.

The pressure wave from the explosion blew windows out of the laboratory, with glass hitting a passerby on a path outside, and glass shards landing up to 30m away. Ceiling panels were dislodged in the laboratory and adjacent rooms, and a worker using the apparatus at the time was taken to hospital by ambulance to have burns treated. They have subsequently fully recovered from their injuries. Another worker in the lab at the time required medical observation but was otherwise unharmed.

Mixtures of inert gases and hydrogen are intended to be routinely used in the type of anaerobic chamber involved in the incident. The mixtures used in the chamber involved were produced locally in the laboratory using nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. The hydrogen in the mixture reacts with any oxygen present in the chamber, on a heated catalyst, to eliminate oxygen and keep the chamber anaerobic.

The local operating procedures used in the lab allowed high concentrations of hydrogen to be introduced into the chamber. A worker inadvertently admitted air to the chamber whilst undertaking maintenance, allowing the hydrogen-enriched atmosphere in the chamber to mix with air, and subsequently ignite, most probably on contact with the oxidation catalyst in the chamber, resulting in the explosion and subsequent fire.

Factors to consider

  • Hydrogen gas has a very wide range of flammability when mixed with air (approx 4 – 74 per cent).
  • Oxidation catalysts can ignite explosive gas mixes without heating, spark or flame.
  • Local operating procedures and practices varied from manufacturer’s advice.
  • An unknown concentration of hydrogen was present in the chamber, presenting a significant fire and explosion risk.


  • The practice of making gas mixtures in the laboratory should be eliminated, and gas mixtures with a known low hydrogen concentration should be purchased for use. The concentration of hydrogen used should be such that it is not possible to form an explosive mixture on dilution with air (that is, hydrogen concentration less than four per cent after mixing with air from a leak, damage to the chamber, or inadvertent admission of air to the chamber).
  • A gas monitor with inbuilt alarm should be purchased and installed to continuously monitor both hydrogen and oxygen concentrations in the chamber, and provide visible and audible indication of any problems.
  • The manufacturer’s instructions and manuals should be closely followed.
  • All users should be fully trained in the use of the equipment, and should be fully conversant with the potential hazards and how to manage the associated risks.

Further information

For further information please contact the Chemical and Fire Safety Officer on 6488 7934.

Responsible Chemical and Fire Safety Officer Approved by S and H Manager Date 10 August 2004 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Security Cables

An incident occurred when a non-insulated security cable (made from uncoated thin stainless steel) that was attached to a computer fell between the adaptor and general power outlet (GPO), causing a electrical short. There was a residual circuit device (RCD) on the circuit but this did not activate owing to the active to neutral short. Although the student using the GPO at the time was not hurt, they were shaken by the incident.

Damaged DPO 1  Damaged DPO 2

Please ensure electrically insulated cables only are used and that all security cables are situated well away from electrical connections.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 26 April 2004 File ref F3104

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Hazard Alert - Trip Hazards

Regular hazard and incident reports are received related to the trip potential from equipment security cables, electrical cords, microphone cables, recessed pit covers and the linke in lecture theatres and seminar/tutorial rooms. UWA's Audio Visual Unit has put measures in place to help reduce such trip hazards. These and the following are useful measures to adopt to reduce the potential of trip hazards:

  1. The layout concept should involve localising as much of the audio/visual equipment to one side of the podium or room.
  2. The lecterns on the podium have specially insulated and encased looms to protect the cables housed within. The access of this loom from the ground pit should be as close to the lectern as possible to preclude tripping. Excess slack in the loom should be neatly wound and kept inside the pit. The covers for these power and data point pits should be flush with the floor surface.
  3. Additional cables for microphones, laptops, internet access, and audio and connection cables are already neatly bundled together and "tyrapped". After use, these bundled cables should be neatly looped around the hooks, conveniently attached to the lectern.
  4. When laptops/notebook computers are being used, they should be placed either on the lecterns or on a table immediately next to the lecterns. This is to preclude the introduction of additional cables straddled across the floor that may increase the tripping hazard.
  5. VCRs and other equipment like visualisers should be placed on appropriate racks or on a trolley, which should have trays for the cables to be properly stored.
  6. Security cables for equipment should be shortened, as far as possible, to reduce the risks of tripping or snagging.

Users of the equipment in lecture theatres and seminar/tutorial rooms have a responsibility to check that the risk of tripping is kept to a minimum, through correct location of equipment and tidying of cables. Proper housekeeping should be employed at all times.

For further information, please contact the Audio Visual Unit on 6488 2026.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 26 April 2004 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) Barbeque Safety

Safety and Health are aware that a number of faculties, schools and student groups at UWA have purchased their own barbeques and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders. According to Fire & Rescue NSW, most fires involving barbeques are due to leaking gas bottles, faulty connections or a build up of grease and fat.

The storage of these barbeques and LPG cylinders within buildings could pose a threat to the safety and health of the occupants. Potential problems could arise with the security of the cylinder, potential explosive atmosphere from escaping gas and the specific storage location of the cylinder in cases of emergency situations.

LPG is heaver than air and if there is a leak in any gas couplings, fittings or hoses the gas will tend to collect in low points and may remain in an area for some time creating a potential fire or explosive situation. Australian Standard 1596-2002 S2.3 states that, "The use and storage of cylinders of LP Gas indoors, whether full or nominally empty, should be avoided wherever practicable."

It is important to make sure that the barbeque is serviced and maintained correctly and that the condition of all hoses and connections is checked before each use. The barbeque should be clean before use, do not leave food cooking unattended and do not put the barbeque close to combustible materials. For gas barbeques a garden hose or other continuous supply of water nearby should be available.

The following are standard safety considerations when using LPG barbeques:

  • LPG cylinders are required to be re-tested every 10 years. Do not use cylinders beyond the date stamped on the cylinder.
  • Check gas cylinders for rust or damage and ensure connections are correctly tightened on the barbeque before lighting. Spray soapy water on suspect connections; bubbles will form if gas is escaping. If in doubt, turn off the gas and have a licensed gas fitter attend to the hose or connection.
  • Make sure the barbeque is on a firm, level base, sheltered from wind gusts and well away from anything flammable.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the correct start-up and shut-down procedures, do not connect or disconnect cylinders in the vicinity of a naked flame and shut of the cylinder valve before disconnecting the bottle from the BBQ.
  • Only use a barbeque in a well-ventilated area because fumes and gases emitted may be harmful. These barbeques are not intended for indoor use.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby for emergencies.
  • If a gas leak occurs, shut off the cylinder immediately to allow any gas to dissipate.
  • After the cooking is finished make sure the gas is turned off at the cylinder.
  • Cylinders should be carried and stored upright at all times.
  • Cylinders should be stored outside in an adequately ventilated area.
  • House the cylinder in a secure location and provide protection against falling, damage and excessive temperature rise.
  • Provide separate storage for LPG away from any oxidising gases by at least three metres. Do not store or use petrol, flammable liquids or aerosols near LPG cylinders.
  • Do not store the cylinder in close proximity to an ignition source, or in locations that could jeopardise escape from the building in the event of fire (under no circumstances in stairwells).
  • Keep children away from the barbeque, and remove and secure lighters and matches.
  • Use alcohol responsibly around barbeques.

If you detect a strong smell of gas, call Security on 6488 2222.

For more information

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 26 April 2004 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert – Electrical Fire involving a Laboratory IEC Heater Stirrer (CAT. CH2090-001)

The incident

A student had been working on a task for four hours using an IEC Heater Stirrer (CAT. CH2090-001). The student noticed flames coming from the heater stirrer; they were suppressed.

Factors to consider

The failure was a malfunction of the simmerstat which controls the heating side of the device. This resulted in a breakdown of insulation on the conductors and subsequent burning of the unit. This process occurred over a period of time, allowing a build-up of heat that resulted in the plastic end panel's melting. Following investigation, failure of this piece of equipment would appear to be an isolated incident.


While failure of this piece of equipment would appear to be an isolated incident, the following recommendations were made:

  • Laboratory heating equipment should not be left turned on and unattended, in particular on weekends and out of normal hours.
  • Schools and sections are advised to locate and check similar heater stirrer units.
  • The University Electrical Equipment Safety Policy must be adhered to including locating, testing, tagging and recording of all electrical equipment. [Comment: Policy does not exist in UWA policies. - Hugh]
IEC Heater and Stirrer
Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date October 2008 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Track Lighting

The Incident

A student hanging art work from a light fitting to an energised adjustable lighting track, with metal rods, received an electric shock.

Factors to Consider

The hazard of 240 volt energised light tracking was not foreseen as these components are ordinarily difficult to access. The metal rod was not only an effective conductor, but was also shaped with a pointed hook which could reach the energised track. Lighting of any description is not suitable for the hanging of art works and displays.


Whilst this incident required a number of unlikely factors the potential consequences are serious injury or death, therefore the following recommendations are made, with particular reference to areas where students may be creating displays:

  • 12 volt track lighting is used
  • RCD protection of lighting circuits
  • Provision of fit for purpose hanging grids or frames
  • Where 240 volt track is used, labelling indicating danger is affixed
  • Advice on not hanging works on lights to be included in staff and student induction and manuals
  • All work on lighting tracks must include initial isolation of the circuit
Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 27 September 2012 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Furnaces and Kilns

The Incident

An electrical hazard has been identified involving degradation of insulation of the heating elements of furnaces and kilns, which may expose personnel to a serious electric shock.

Factors to Consider

For more information please go to this pdf version link or rft version link


The recommendations from the University Electrician and UWA Safety and Health are:

  • All furnaces must have a micro switch fitted to isolate power to the heating elemet when the door is opened
  • All new furnaces purchased have this feature installed
Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 13 August 2013 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Picric Acid

The Incident

Potentially Explosive Picric Acid Discovered
Recently, during a chemical audit, a researcher came across an old container of picric acid. Dried picric acid is potentially explosive and may be detonated by shock or friction. This reagent is shipped as a wetted paste which makes it a flammable solid (dangerous good class 4.1). It is used in the preparation of stains (e.g. Van Gieson’s, Picro Sirius Red) and is both toxic and corrosive. Wherever possible eliminate the need to have solid, wetted picric acid in your chemical holdings, buy a picric solution for making up stains or buy the stains themselves. When this is not possible then the following protocols must be observed:

  • Date containers on receiving and dispose of them after two years through the campus chemical waste disposals
  • Keep the SDS on hand
  • Update your ChemAlert holdings – we need to know where this stuff is, how much there is of it and how old it is
  • Make sure students etc. working with picric acid are aware of the hazards and are trained to cope with them BEFORE they use it
  • Clean the threads of containers and the cap with a dampened cloth before recapping and seal the cap with parafilm
  • Keep stocks wetted. Inspect fortnightly to ensure they are adequately moistened. Turn the containers gently to distribute water throughout the container
  • Use in fume hoods when dispensing picric acid
  • Do not use metal spatulas to dispense or handle picric acid
  • Don’t store picric in or on metal or on concrete. Picric salts are dangerously explosive and may form if the material comes into contact with metals or concrete
  • What should you do if you find an old container of picric acid
  • DO NOT open it. Dried out picric is shock and friction sensitive. Unscrewing the cap may be enough to detonate crystals in the threads of the cap. If the cap is metal then the picric may have formed metal salts which are very sensitive and dangerous
  • DO NOT move it
  • Quietly close off the area
  • Contact the chemical safety advisor on 6488 3412.

The container discovered by the researcher above was removed by Emergency Services. This incident highlights the need for a thorough annual chemical audit. We are lucky the researcher concerned was both diligent and aware of the potential problems of this product.

Responsible S and H Manager Approved by S and H Manager Date 28 July 2014 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - 15 Lt Water Cooler Bottle

The Incident

A staff member injured their arm while lifting a 15 litre Water Cooler Bottle. The staff member was replacing an empty bottle with full bottle out of the storage rack. The incident was reported and investigated. The load lifted in the replacement process is heavy (15kg) and can require awkward postures to lift, transport and install the bottles.

The following corrective actions should be considered by areas which have the 15lt Water Bottle Cooler Units:

  1. Replace the fountain units with in-tap/under sink chiller units or free standing fountains plumbed in to the mains water supply to eliminate the handling and use of the 15lt Bottles.
  2. Where there is access to ambient filtered water, provide fridges, water jugs/bottles so that the filtered ambient water can be cooled as required to eliminate the handling and use of the 15lt Bottles.
  3. Where the 15lt bottle units cannot be eliminated the following options should be implemented:
    a.Manual handling training for people exposed to the risk to ensure they adopt safe lifting techniques. Safety, Health and Wellbeing can make this referral.
    b.Storage of the 15lt bottles should be reviewed as it is recommend that heavy loads are lifted from waist height.
Responsible SHW Manager Approved by SHW Manager Date 22 December 2015 File ref F3104
Hazard Alert - Lithium Ion Battery Chargers

The Incident

Lithium ion batteries are now used in many home, business and research applications ranging from lap top computers, mobile phones, garden leaf blowers and scientific research equipment to name a few. Lithium ion batteries require matching chargers to ensure that they don’t catch fire. Those sold in Australia are legally required to have been approved by one of the State Electricity Regulators such as Energy Safety in Western Australia.

We have recently had two power supply cables to lithium ion battery chargers short internally with holes blown in the outer sheath as shown in the attached photograph. These lithium ion batteries, chargers and cables were purchased as part of scientific research instruments from a reputable Australian supplier.

lithium ion battery charger

Our subsequent analysis showed that these power supply cables were not approved for use in Australia. The Chinese lithium ion battery charger supplied with this equipment was similarly not approved for use in Australia. As soon as we alerted the supplier to this problem they offered to replace them with certified Australian use approved chargers and cables.

The purpose of this safety alert is to make potential purchasers of equipment containing lithium ion batteries to ensure that the supplier provides Australian approved use chargers and cables.

Responsible SHW Manager Approved by SHW Manager Date 3 February 2016 File ref F3104

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