Lesson Learned - Exposure to Poisonous Chemicals Due to Improper Storage and Unsafe Work Practices

What happened?
A graduate student working in a UC Berkeley laboratory needed a chemical from an overhead shelf. To reach the chemical, the student stood on tiptoe and leaned on the edge of a shelf. This pressure caused the shelf to shift and chemicals to fall. Among the bottles that fell were two that were covered with aluminum foil instead of the original screw-on caps. Those containers held strychnine powder and azure blue dye. The contents fell on the researcher, bench and floor. The exposed researcher spent 15 minutes under a safety shower, and then went to Tang Center for medical evaluation. Fortunately, the researcher did not ingest any of the poisonous material.

Lessons learned from this incident include:

  • Chemical containers should always be properly capped when not in use.
  • A stepstool or ladder should be used to access overhead containers when they are even slightly out of reach.
  • Chemical storage shelves should be properly secured and have adequately sized lips to prevent containers from sliding off.
  • Know where your closest safety shower is located and ensure access to it is not blocked!


  • Safe Storage of Hazardous Chemicals Booklet (PDF)
  • EH&S Fact Sheet - Clutter as a Laboratory Safety Concern (PDF)
  • EH&S Fact Sheet - Material Safety Data Sheets (PDF)