Chemical Storage Shelf Collapse

The Incident and Initial Response

A large volume of solvent was spilled when the middle shelf of a flammable storage cabinet collapsed as it was being accessed at about 10 p.m. one night. Several four-liter bottles of solvents fell out of the cabinet and broke, with the liquid spreading out onto the floor. Laboratory personnel initially tried to clean up the spill themselves, but soon realized that there was too much material for them to handle safety. They called for assistance, which resulted in the Fire Department responding and the Illini-Alerts being sent to the campus community. The spill was stabilized in about four hours and final cleanup was completed about 12 hours later.

DRS Follow Up

The Division of Research Safety (DRS) was on site the night of the spill and conducted several follow up investigations. DRS believes that the primary cause of the spill was poor shelf design. The storage cabinet was a Fisher Hamilton model 950S8700. However, what is important is not the specific make and model, but the design of the adjustable shelf. In this particular storage cabinet, the clip holding the adjustable shelf was very easy to dislodge and resulted in the shelf collapse.

Overall, DRS was pleased with the response to this incident. Laboratory personnel requested outside assistance quickly. Administrative and supervisory staff provided prompt assistance during the initial response and in following up the incident. The Urbana Fire Department, with support from the Champaign Fire Department, worked with University personnel to provide a timely and appropriate response. The fact that the spill ultimately did not cause injuries or major property damage was largely due to the prompt and effective response that occurred.


As a result of this incident, DRS recommends that laboratory workers take the following actions:

  • Inspect chemical storage shelves, especially adjustable shelves, to ensure that the shelves are sturdy and stable.
  • Review the DRS guidance on chemical spill response, so that all laboratory workers know how to respond and get assistance in the event of an emergency.
  • Review your laboratory’s operations to make sure that you have adequate spill cleanup materials to address any spills likely to occur.
  • Make sure that your chemical inventory is up to date, so that good information is available in the event of an emergency. Even better would be to have the inventory available electronically, so that it could be accessed from outside the laboratory.

Last Update: 5/21/2014