Responding to Equipment Alarms

By Bob Colichio

In June 2009 in Building 490 a rare collection of human brain tissue that was being used to study mental illness (depression) was destroyed as a result of the -80 Ultra Low Temperature freezer they were being installed in failing. Investigation of the incident revealed a failure of the local alarm (on the freezer) and a mislabeled alarm indicator in the 9-400 hall way. The replacement value of the research specimens were estimated at $500K.

During the course of the investigation it was discovered that the ULT freezers frequently alarm when individuals keep the doors open to place or remove samples. It is commonplace to silence the local alarm figuring this was the case and that the freezer would come down in temperature shortly, when in fact it could be a catastrophic failure.

If in fact you are loading or unloading samples from a freezer and it alarms because the door has been opened for an extended time, feel free to silence the alarm. But, once the door is closed the freezer must be monitored frequently to ensure that the temperature is indeed falling to itís set temperature. If after 30 minutes it has not reached that temperature, contact the Building Manager, ESH Coordinator or Site Supervisor (after hours) immediately.

Therefore, it became the norm of the workforce culture to ignore or disregard equipment alarms/warnings. In addition, there appeared to be an absence of a questioning attitude (why is it alarming?). For example, even where the evidence from the alarming freezer was indicating the possibility of an actual failure, it was not considered a credible explanation until the evidence of the failure was incontrovertible.

This incident has brought to light the fact that we have numerous other equipment, other than ULT freezers (ie; incubators, autoclaves, environmental/HVAC) within our buildings that have local alarms (some of which may also be alarmed to the Site Supervisor).

If you happen to notice any equipment alarming, please contact your Building Manager or ESH Coordinator during normal work hours. After hours or weekends, you should contact the BNL Site Supervisor at Ext. 4174 or Cellular (631) 872-8988. The equipment can then be monitored or repaired to prevent any future loss or damage.

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Last Modified: January 14, 2010
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