Nomex FR Apparel Newsletter Volume 3

The University of California System Improves Lab Safety with DuPont™ Nomex®

The University of California System Improves Lab Safety with DuPont™ Nomex® On a December afternoon in 2008, within the research laboratories of the University of California (UC) in Los Angeles, a routine procedure went terribly wrong.

As a young technician transferred a small amount of tert-butyllithium from one container to another, the plastic syringe she was using came apart in her hands. The chemical—a highly reactive, “pyrophoric” compound—burst into flames. Severe burns covered the lab assistant’s body. She died of her injuries 18 days later.

An investigation into the incident yielded a critical detail: At the time of the fire, the lab assistant wasn’t wearing any protective clothing. In order to avoid similar tragedies in the future, UC would need to institute a comprehensive program to purchase, distribute and encourage the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE), especially flame-resistant (FR) garments.

A System-Wide Challenge
The UC research program employs thousands on 10 campuses statewide and at the renowned Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories. Subjects under study at UC facilities range from molecular chemistry to primate health and from genetic modification to nuclear physics. In such a diverse, geographically distributed program with so many “moving parts,” potential hazards can be numerous. A one-size-fits-all approach was simply out of the question.

A System-Wide Challenge For help, UC turned to the San Jose, California-based consulting company Environmental & Occupational Risk Management, Inc. (EORM), which recommended that the school get a handle on the challenge by administering the Laboratory Hazard Assessment Tool (LHAT) to its research employees. The online survey was designed to identify the nature and scope of the hazards present in laboratories.

Armed with a better picture of the everyday risks its employees faced, UC was now well-positioned to begin evaluating the protective attributes of various garment types and fabrics, from untreated cotton and untreated cotton/polyester blends to chemically treated fabrics and finally, garments made from inherent FR fibers.

Lab Safety Check List


Trusted Performance of Nomex®
After exhaustive trials, the UC evaluators selected the only garments that met their high standards: those made from DuPont™ Nomex® fiber. When exposed to extreme heat, Nomex® fiber reacts in a unique manner. It captures energy rather than conducting it to the wearer’s skin, protecting the victim and providing them valuable escape time. And unlike post-treated garments like FR cotton, the heat- and flame-resistant properties of Nomex® are built in—they can’t be washed out or worn away. The UC evaluators were also impressed with the fit, lightweight fabric and breathability offered by protective garments made from Nomex®, key factors in their likelihood of being worn.

Ensuring Safety on Campus
Along with their PPE distribution programs, the individual campuses at UC have since implemented rigorous training on proper use of their new PPE. For the sake of convenience, the schools even launder their employees’ PPE on request.

While there’s no way to undo the tragic event that prompted the University of California to renew its commitment to laboratory safety, by investing in testing, training and garments made from DuPont™ Nomex®, the school has gone a long way toward ensuring that history never repeats itself.



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