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Caffeine experiment overdose leaves students in intensive care

The University of Northumbria has been fined £400,000 after two volunteer students were rushed to intensive care following a laboratory experiment that left them in a critical state.

Caffeine experiment overdose leaves students in intensive care
The students drank a solution with 100 times the amount that should have been taken. Image credit:© PA/HSE

Newcastle Crown Court heard how students were learning about the effects of caffeine as part of a sports experiment when the incident happened. Part of the course involved a practical exercise where volunteers were asked to take quantities of caffeine to demonstrate the impact.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that two of the students drank a solution with 100 times the amount that should have been taken as part of the experiment at the university premises in Newcastle upon Tyne. Both volunteers immediately suffered dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting, shaking and rapid heartbeat and were rushed to hospital where their conditions were judged life threatening. The court heard dialysis was required to remove the excessive levels of caffeine from their bodies.

HSE found that the university had not followed the strict procedures it had devised for carrying out experiments. The researchers’ instructions were to use 200mg tablets, but these were not available, so the student researchers were given caffeine in powdered form. The students miscalculated the amount of powder to use and the two volunteers overdosed.

The University of Northumbria pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The education establishment was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £26,468.

 

Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner

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