A science experiment involving coffee that went wrong left two students in critical condition.
Two students were given 30g of caffeine – the equivalent of 300 cups – during a university science experiment. They should have been given just 0.3g.
Hundred times correct dose given
Sports science students Alex Rossetta and Luke Parkin had volunteered for the Northumbria University test to measure the impact of caffeine on exercise.
But a calculation error led the second year students to be given 100 times the correct dosage. This caused violent side-effects. The pair were hospitalised with “life- threatening reactions”, Newcastle Crown Court heard.
Prosecutor Adam Farrer says the mix up by the University led to them being admitted to an intensive care unit and both receiving dialysis.
“It would be mixed with water and orange juice but they were erroneously given 30.7g and 32g of caffeine, which was 100 times the dosage they should have been given,” he said.
An ovedose of caffeine can lead to death, with reports of people consuming just 18g dying.
The University had switched from using caffeine tablets to powder during the experiment. This change meant supervision was even more important. But the staff were not experienced or competent enough and had never done it on their own before, he claimed.
“The university took no steps to make sure the staff knew how to do it,” he told the court.
Catalogue of errors
There was a “catalogue of errors” leading to the overdose, including the calculation being done on a mobile phone, the decimal point being put in the wrong place and there being no risk assessment for the test.
“The failures to follow basic health and safety requirements were cumulative, persistent, long-standing and systemic,” he said. “The university failed in its duty to ensure the safety of its students.”
Mr Rossetta was kept in hospital for six days, reported short-term memory loss and lost 12kg in weight. Mr Parkin was treated for two days and lost 10kg in weight. Both have since made a full physical recovery.
The university admitted the health and safety breach at a hearing at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court last month.
Peter Smith, defending, said vice chancellor Andrew Wathey was in court, along with other members of staff, as the human face of the university.
“They are deeply sorry, genuinely sorry for the breach in this case,” he said. “The university community is a close one and they wish to emphasise that they take the welfare of their students and staff seriously.”
Date Published: February 4, 2017
Author: Jonathan Brown