Charles and a monkey share a meaningful sidelong glance.

The Darwin Awards

2022 Slush Pile

Submissions From Readers
Which should we promote to winners?

Pending Review

Important for Wendy

Wendy says: The anonymous person 'Heyyy' suggests two stories I missed. I added links to these two stories <below>, and look forward to investigating them today

cripes! this isn't funny


Fossil rocks have oil potential, but how much? To determine the answer, petrochemical geologists dissolve sedimentary rock with a blend of hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid (HCl and HF). This liberates the acid-insoluble shell fossils. They peer at the wee shells through a microscope to figure out what kind of rock it is, and how much oil they can extract or frack from the deposit.

The sediment-dissolving ACID BLEND contains HCl (hydrochloric acid) which I am sure you remember from primary school as a well-behaved, common strong acid. HCl is in every chemistry lab, used for example in the acid/base titer setup. But the HF (hydrofluoric acid) component of this acid band is unbelievably lethal. Although HF is a weak acid the danger comes from its affinity for calcium ions. Thinkie: If Hydrofluoric Acid dissolves bone, why does it leave the fossils intact? Hm. Because fossil shells are not calcium any longer? HF sinks easily through the skin, decommissions and destroys cells, and dissolves bone as an encore.

Even small splashes of concentrated hydrogen fluoride on the skin can be fatal says the emergency factsheet, and alarmingly you may not even feel pain or see skin damage. Given its insidious danger, I question why we ever manufacture or use this nasty shit.

/ Background /→ on to the DA nomination...

darwinaward denied!

hapless technician defense

Australia | In a well-documented workplace death a petrochemical technician in Australia was working alone, seated, when they knocked over hydrofluoric acid (HF) and spilled ~250ml/8oz onto the thighs. Was the technician wearing a protective garment? No! The PPE was only short double gloves and PVC sleeve protectors, so the HF acid began to soak into their thighs. Oh no no no!

It seems that the employee knew it was a serious situation. After the spill, they hosed off with 'a makeshift plumbing arrangement' unfortunately without removing their acid-soaked clothing. Then the technician, in pain and shock, jumped into a chlorinated swimming pool at the rear of the workplace, where they remained until an ambulance arrived a harrowing 40 minutes later!!

The employee died in hospital of hydrofluoric acid injuries. 9% of their body surface was burned by the acid, which as noted above sinks in and causes massive cellular damage, and bone and organ destruction. Unlovely.

There is a lot of stupid to unpack here: First (1) never work alone with deadly chemicals. Second (2) always wear protective equipment sufficient to the task. Third (3) there should have been a deluge-type emergency shower nearby, and fourth (4) the employee should have been trained to discard clothing immediately and flush the skin, regardless of personal embarrassment. Fifth (5) a 40-minute delay before medical transport arrived was ridiculous, considering the nature of the chemicals used at the facility. And sixth (6) support staff should have been available to help the injured technician and communicate urgency to emergency workers.

hapless technician defense

But I contend that this was, by and large, corporate stupidity rather than personal stupidity. Given the circumstances, the deceased took all actions available to save their life. A personal Darwin Award is DENIED to this Hapless Technician. Invoke the 'Hapless Technician Defense'!

Why? Explainer: I worked in several biochem labs. Every laboratory is required to enforce policies to prevent worker injury: ✓ Adequate training. ✓ Adequate PPE. ✓ Labeling dangerous chemicals. ✓ Staffing and support in case of injury. An employee working alone with a lethal chemical? Should have been a policy in place to prevent that. Working without proper PPE? Should have been adequate PPE and training on its use. After the spill, where was the emergency shower? Where was support staff who could explain the nature of the emergency to the ambulance?

The injured employee was floating alone in a swimming pool for 40 minutes before an ambulance arrived, which I cannot begin to fathom. The workplace had an obligation to make arrangements for speedy medical evacuation. due to the dangerous rock-dissolving chemicals used at the facility.

This was nominated for a Darwin Award. I see why! If this was a scheme concocted by a garage-chemist working on their own petrochemical ideas, then sure! Darwin Award for ratty setup of your home lab. But I contend that it was not the geology technician's fault, because safety training and workplace policies were evidently lacking.


Thank you for being active again.

Important suggestion though, look at stories from previous slush piles for the past few years, there is some juicy stories like the guy who didnt use protection while handling hydrofluoric acid and the girl who did a yoga pose over a balcony railing.

Submitted on 03/31/2022


Submitted by: Heyyy

>> Moderator Scores <<

Bruce said:
Definitely Keep: For Darwin's Eyes

Candi said:
Definitely Keep: For Darwin's Eyes