Lesson Learned - Oleylamine Chemical Burn

What happened?

  • A laboratory researcher suffered a delayed chemical burn after only a few drops of a highly corrosive organic chemical splattered on his unprotected left forearm.
  • The burns first appeared hours after exposure, got worse overnight, and eventually required treatment at a hospital.

arm with chemical burn
The Researcher's Forearm

Working in a fume hood, a researcher was drying a large quantity of oleylamine (CAS# 112-90-3) in a 250ml three neck flask under pressurized argon. After cooling the flask, he proceeded to transfer the contents to a bottle. As he removed the septum from the neck of the flask, a small quantity of oleylamine spurted from its neck and a few drops landed on his forearm. He subsequently went to a nearby restroom and briefly (less than one minute) washed the affected area of his forearm with soap and water. A few hours later he noticed a minor burn mark near his wrist. Late that same evening he noticed that several other burn marks had formed on his forearm. By morning a few of the burn marks had developed blisters and he went to the hospital where he was treated.

The accident investigation revealed that the researcher:

  • Had performed this operation dozens of times before without injury, so he was not particularly worried about it.
  • Was not familiar with the high corrosivity of the chemical, and he expected it to wash off quickly with soap and water.
  • Was not wearing a lab coat or other protective clothing (there were no burns where his arm was protected by his short sleeved shirt).
  • Was concerned about being late for a group meeting and therefore ran a higher than normal argon pressure, hoping to expedite the procedure.

Lessons Learned

  • Study the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) before using a chemical. The MSDS for oleylamine states the following health effects, exposure controls and first aid measures when it comes to skin exposure:
  • Causes skin burns
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing to prevent skin exposure
  • Get medical aid immediately. Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing

  • Always wear a lab coat or other appropriate protective clothing when working with corrosive materials. When working in a fume hood, the sash protects the torso and face but not the arms. The Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) should require that a lab coat be worn during such procedures and these coats should be provided to all researchers. The laboratory where this accident occurred now has instituted a policy that lab coats are required.
  • Allow adequate time when conducting experiments or work involving hazardous chemicals.
  • For this type of procedure, keep the gas pressure at a minimum or briefly turn it off when transferring contents.
  • Always ensure that pressure within a container is not too high before opening it.
  • Containers that may be under pressure should be opened away from your body and face.
  • Wash any chemicals from the skin or eyes very thoroughly, in accordance to the MSDS.

Information on the campus' Chemical Hygiene Plan can be found here: https://ehs.berkeley.edu/chemical-safety/chemical-hygiene-plan

For College of Chemistry personnel: http://chemistry.berkeley.edu/ccehss

The National Research Council's Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals (National Academies Press,1995) is a good source of additional lab safety information.

Please call EH&S at 642-3073 with any comments or questions.