Hazard alerts (2004)

Sharps container accident

Some sharps containers used on campus are supplied by the manufacturer in two halves. These halves are then snapped together to create the container (see Figure 1).

An incident occurred on campus recently where one of these containers was not snapped together properly when it was first assembled. The improperly assembled container was then filled with glass slides and cover slips during the normal processes in the laboratory. Once it was full the container was being carried by the handle to the point of disposal. The two halves of the container fell apart en route, resulting in a large spill of sharps.

In other incidents, excessive force or the wrong technique were used to push lids into place. This resulted in the lids moving and the person's hand entering the sharps container.

These incidents have highlighted a number of concerns regarding the use of sharps containers on campus.

This type of 'snap together' sharps container is widely used around the campus, therefore this incident could easily reoccur in similar circumstances. Sharps are usually not autoclaved prior to being sent to Stericorp for incineration, therefore if such an incident occurs it can result in a large and complicated spill of hazardous material or personal injury. Manufacturer's assembly and use instructions should always be followed.

Australian Standard requirements:

The pictured sharps container (Figure 1 - produced by Sarstedt Group*) is not tested against the relevant Australian Standard for sharps containers - AS4031. To comply with the Standard, containers are put through a rigorous testing regime that ensures, among other things, that the container is leak-proof, impact resistant, resistant to piercing by sharps, and that the carrying handle is sufficiently sturdy. All of these aspects are essential for safe use and disposal of sharps. Laboratories undertaking gene technology work should take particular care to ensure that their sharps containers are compliant with the Standard, to reduce any possibility of an unintentional release of GMOs.

Budget units should ensure that sharps containers being purchased and supplied through their stores are compliant with AS4031.

Only containers compliant with AS4031 are to be used for sharps at the ANU. Non-approved containers do not have the safe guards in place that an approved sharps container has, and thus should never be used for sharps disposal. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions of assembly and use.

Outer containers:

Closed unbreakable outer containers should be used for transport of hazardous materials outside of laboratories. This is currently a legal requirement for laboratories falling under the Gene Technology Regulator, and it is also recommended by the relevant Australian Standard AS/NZS 2243.3 2002 Safety In Laboratories, Microbiological aspects and containment facilities. Even though a sharps container may appear to be a sturdy container, it is still considered to be the primary container, and needs to be enclosed in a secondary unbreakable outer container for transport outside of the laboratory.

Overloading of containers:

All Australian Standard approved sharps containers will have a marking on them indicating the maximum point to which they should be filled. It is important that this fill level is not exceeded at any time, otherwise sharps injuries can occur from trying to handle an over-full container.

Sealing the lid:

Take care when closing a sharps container to minimize the risk of fingers or hands entering the sharps container. Use only the appropriate force required.

Use of sharps containers for general waste:

Sharps containers should be used only for sharps and never for other purposes. In some cases it has been observed that sharps containers are being lined with a bag and used as a biohazard bin or other type of bin. Use of a sharps container in this way can result in accidents occurring, when a person mistakes the bin for a sharps container. If a bin for waste other than sharps is required, a specialist container should be purchased to avoid any possibility of confusion.

* 29/11/2004 - telephone conversation with Sarstedt customer service department indicated that their sharps containers are not tested against the Australian Standard 4031.

For further information email: OHS Officer

Disintegration of Schott bottle lid

A recent incident occurred on campus where the lid of a Schott bottle disintegrated after repeated microwaving. The Schott bottle and lid were being used to heat agarose in a microwave and the operator sustained burns to the hand after hot agarose leaked out through cracks in the lid.

The blue lid of the Schott bottle disintegrated in a ring around where the top of the bottle connects with the lid (see Figure 1).

Users of Schott bottles should be aware of the potential for the lids to disintegrate after repeated use. Lids should be carefully examined for deterioration, in particular if the plastic looks faded, chipped or brittle. Lids showing signs of deterioration should be discarded and replaced with new lids.

Officially the company, Schott Garsco Pty Ltd, regards the lids as having a finite life span and recommends their replacement as soon as cracks or other deterioration appears.

Blue Schott bottle lids can be heated to 140oC. Their melting point is 165oC.

Rather than microwaving agarose with the lid on the Schott bottle it is suggested that several tissues be used to plug the neck of the bottle during heating. This will reduce the need to microwave lids, and also prevent build up of steam and pressure in the bottle if the lid is on too tight.

For further information email: OHS Officer

Gas cylinder valve change for Air and Nitrogen compressed gases

The Australian and New Zealand Industrial Gas Association (ANZIGA) has recommended changes to gas cylinder valves in compliance with the Australian Standard (AS2473). Your gas supply Company (eg BOC, Linde Gas and Air Liquide Aust.) will shortly change the outlet connections on Air and Nitrogen gas cylinders. This means your existing regulators or hose connection will not fit the new outlet. Please see the ANZIGA and BOC  documents for further information.

The new cylinders will be supplied from 1 May 2004 for Air and 1 July 2004 for Nitrogen.

Due to the number of nitrogen and air cylinders used on campus, the change of connections/regulators in your area may take some time. Of particular importance is the supply of air or nitrogen to control values and pneumatic systems influencing safety. Please consider this issue urgently as after the respective dates only the new valved cylinders will be supplied. Further information and conversion options are available from BOC.

[This information was sent to Business/Operation Managers by email on 14 May 2004]

For further information contact: Roy Schmid, phone: 54485, email: Roy.Schmid@anu.edu.au

Bis (alkynyl) mercurials - explosion potential

Users of bis (alkynyl) mercurials should be aware that a sample of bis (3-methyl-butynyl) mercury recently detonated spontaneously whilst sitting on the bench.

This class of organomercury compound has no published history of being prone to detonation and so the cause remains a mystery. However, this unexpected behaviour should be considered a potential hazard for all compounds of this general class.

For further information email: OHS Officer