The following statement about safety in campus research labs and recent charges by the Los Angeles County District Attorney was issued today by Chancellor Gene Block.
To the Campus Community:
As many of you know, the Los Angeles County District Attorney made an unprecedented decision last week to file felony charges against the Regents and an esteemed chemistry professor in connection with a tragic accident that occurred three years ago on our campus. I am writing today to reassure you of our intention to fight these charges and also to continue uninterrupted our vital mission of conducting important research.
Sheri Sangji’s death was strongly felt by everyone at UCLA, and we were deeply saddened by the loss of a member of our community. It certainly was the most devastating day in my tenure as chancellor. I made a pledge then that we would go above and beyond existing policies and regulations to become a model of campus safety. And we have. In the wake of this tragedy, we have enhanced our lab safety program in numerous ways to do all we can to prevent this from happening again.
First and foremost, we created the Center for Laboratory Safety, which has received attention from research institutions around the country. Its mission is to identify and institute best practices in safety, going beyond the minimum requirements of outside agencies so that we can hold our laboratories to even higher standards. We also dramatically increased the number of lab inspections, strengthened our policy on the required use of personal protective equipment and developed a hazard-assessment tool that labs must update annually or whenever conditions change.
We know that improving lab safety requires a cultural shift and does not occur overnight. The process takes time and constant reminders — like the videos and social media campaign we’ve used to spread the message across our campus. One key component is emphasizing how lab safety is everyone’s responsibility. Even when labs provide the tools, training, education and equipment, it’s ultimately up to the individuals conducting an experiment to put their training to use and stay safe. We also emphasize each person’s responsibility to speak up when they see individuals putting themselves in harm’s way.
These criminal charges against the university and Dr. Patrick Harran are unwarranted. After Ms. Sangji's death, an exhaustive investigation by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found no willful violations of safety rules. While the district attorney’s action came as a shock to us, we will not let it distract us from the more important mission of setting a national standard for laboratory safety. Dr. Harran, a talented and dedicated organic chemistry professor who is making great strides in the global effort to cure cancer, has my full support. The university will provide for his defense.
Great institutions are measured by how they respond to tragedy. I am proud of all that our faculty, staff and students have done in the last three years to make this a safer campus — the best way for UCLA to honor the memory of Sheri Sangji.
Gene D. BlockChancellor