Science + Technology

Campus plans to contest Cal/OSHA fines in November 2007 lab fire

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UCLA plans to contest citations and $23,900 in fines proposed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) in connection with a November 2007 accident in a campus chemistry and biochemistry laboratory.
 
The incident was reported to the UCLA Office of Environment, Health and Safety and to UCLA Compensation and Employment Services, according to Kevin Reed, vice chancellor for legal affairs. The university is examining the circumstances that led to the failure to report the accident to Cal/OSHA.
 
"UCLA long ago corrected the conditions and circumstances that allowed it to go unreported," Reed said. "We're frustrated that state workplace safety regulators do not appear to recognize the comprehensive enhancements made to campus lab safety programs and are instead focused on something that took place more than two years ago. Our intent is to develop a dialogue with Cal/OSHA that will allow us to work cooperatively to ensure our labs are operated in as safe a manner as possible."
 
Information about the November 2007 accident released to journalists by Cal/OSHA was based on UCLA documentation provided to the agency in the course of its review of campus safety programs. Cal/OSHA is not alleging any attempt to withhold information.
 
A graduate student employee working in a chemistry and biochemistry lab was burned during a routine experiment when he spilled ethanol and it was ignited by a flame from a Bunsen burner. The fire burned his hands and clothing. He was not wearing a lab coat provided to him, a standard safety requirement at the time of the accident that is now an explicit campus-wide policy. He walked to the emergency room of UCLA Medical Center. The next day, he sought treatment at the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and was admitted for treatment for burns to his hands and chest. He did not sustain serious, long-lasting injuries and remains an employee of the university.
 
Reed cautioned against drawing a relationship between the November 2007 incident and a December 2008 lab fire that led to the tragic death of a staff research associate.
 
"Any attempt to link the two accidents is unrelated to the facts and UCLA's commitment to lab safety," Reed said.
 
Among the many enhancements to lab safety programs since 2007, UCLA has nearly tripled the number of annual lab inspections, from 365 to 1,095. The inspection protocols are more rigorous, listing a greater number of criteria and requiring corrective action and reinspection within 48 hours when critical problems are identified.
 
Materials developed by the UCLA Office of Environment, Health and Safety, including the laboratory hazard assessment tool, have since been used as a template by other universities. The assessment tool, which must be updated annually, requires each laboratory to quantify chemical, biological and other hazards, specify applicable protective equipment, train all personnel in the use of protective equipment specific to lab activities, and provide written documentation to EH&S. Over the past year, more than 3,300 lab workers have received training in the use of personal protective equipment, such as lab coats.
 
UCLA previously announced that it is appealing separate fines and citations proposed by Cal/OSHA in February 2010.
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