Laboratory Safety on Campus
Chancellor Block reiterates UCLA's commitment to laboratory safety.
The recent death of a research assistant from burns sustained in a chemical fire serves as a tragic reminder of the critical importance of campus laboratory safety protocols, procedures and training. As we mourn the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, we all must redouble our efforts to ensure that laboratories and the rest of campus are operated and maintained in as safe a manner as possible.
In the wake of the Dec. 29, 2008, accident that claimed Ms. Sangji’s life on Jan. 16, the UCLA Office of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) launched a comprehensive review of laboratory safety programs and accelerated the inspection of all labs on campus, normally conducted annually. In addition, EH&S has substantially revised its inspection program and enhanced enforcement measures to increase accountability and focus on the greatest risks.
The new procedures implemented by EH&S include:
- Listing a greater number of potential hazards on inspection forms and reports.
- Specifically noting critical violations and requiring corrective action and re-inspection within 48 hours, substantially shortening follow-up time from 30 days.
- Providing inspection reports to lab directors within one business day of inspections, reducing the previous typical timeline of one to two weeks.
- Requiring lab personnel to complete hazard assessments that detail the protective equipment and safety measures required in specific circumstances, as well as written verification that lab employees have been trained in the proper use of the equipment.
- Establishing a formal process by which deans are quickly informed of uncorrected critical violations.
In addition, I have asked Vice Chancellor for Research Roberto Peccei to lead a campuswide laboratory safety committee charged with further enhancing policies that promote a safe work environment in all research and teaching laboratories. The panel’s initial report and recommendations are due to me by June 1. Committee members include the EH&S director and the chairs of existing groups with safety oversight for various units and functions across campus, as well as four faculty members with expertise in biological sciences, chemical/biochemical sciences, physical sciences or engineering, and radiological sciences.
Look for additional safety program enhancements in coming months as EH&S completes the accelerated lab inspections and its top-to-bottom review of safety protocols and as the campus continues to cooperate with federal and state regulators investigating the accident. For example, EH&S is developing an automated reporting system — planned before the accident — that will make the inspection process more timely and efficient. In addition, EH&S is revising standard operating procedures for the handling of especially volatile compounds such as the t-butyl lithium that ignited in the Dec. 29 accident.
These initiatives reflect our commitment to ensuring the safety of students, faculty and staff who work in labs with sometimes dangerous materials and equipment. As members of the UCLA community, we all share responsibility for promoting and maintaining a safe learning, working and living environment.
Thank you for working together to keep UCLA safe.