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Unannounced inspections now part of lab safety program

Senior leaders joined UCLA Office of Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) inspectors on unannounced visits to 65 chemistry and biochemistry laboratory groups to ensure that everyone working there wore the appropriate personal protective equipment — lab coats, gloves, eye protection and other necessities of laboratory safety.
To underscore the importance of compliance with lab safety rules and regulations, Chancellor Gene Block, Dean Joseph Rudnick of the College’s Division of Physical Sciences, and Nancy Wayne, acting associate vice chancellor for research, accompanied James Gibson, director of EH&S, and inspectors on the first in what will be periodic unannounced inspections. The visits on Monday morning, August 30, were made to lab groups that were working in the Molecular Sciences Building and Boyer, Young and Slichter halls. All of the labs visited were in the physical sciences division.
From the left, James Gibson, director of the UCLA Office of Environment, Health and Safety, gathers with Dean Joseph Rudnick; Chancellor Gene Block; Colin Dimock, EH&S radiation safety officer; and Nancy Wayne, acting associate vice chancellor for research. They were preparing to make the first in a series of unannounced inspections of campus labs.
While EH&S lab inspectors make scheduled visits of labs throughout the year, this was the first of a series of unannounced visits to make sure lab workers are complying with the policy, said Gibson.
“We want to do everything in our power to make sure that all of UCLA’s research and teaching laboratories are operating as safely as possible,” Gibson said. “That’s why we developed and implemented this more far-reaching policy. But at a large research institution, safety requires more than rules. It requires constant vigilance, supporting a culture of safety and monitoring behavior. It’s a lengthy process, and unannounced inspections are part of that process.”
Lab safety has received increased attention across the country since a December 2008 lab fire that led to the tragic death of a staff research associate at UCLA.
Over the past 18 months, campus health and safety officials have made comprehensive and wide-ranging enhancements to programs intended to ensure safety in research labs.
For example, EH&S developed a laboratory hazard assessment tool that principal investigators are required to update annually or when lab conditions change. Each lab must quantify chemical, biological and other hazards, specify protective equipment, train all personnel in the use of protective equipment specific lab activities and provide written documentation. To facilitate compliance and enhance data collection and analysis, the tool was placed online in August and is being rolled out to academic units.
Also, a new employee safety handbook being distributed to all employees this fall includes a much more detailed section on laboratory safety programs.
As part of the university’s ongoing efforts to enhance lab safety, UCLA adopted in January a more encompassing policy on the personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be worn in research and teaching laboratories. In 2009 and 2010, more than 5,000 employees received training in the use of this kind of protective gear.
Under the expanded policy, everyone who works with hazardous materials in a lab — from principal investigators and lab managers to students, postdoctoral researchers and staff members — must wear proper clothing and certain types of protective gloves, aprons, lab coats, gowns, caps, safety eyewear, respirators and shoe covers, depending on the kinds of materials they are working with and the conditions they are working under. Starting with the basics, employees working in a lab must wear close-toed shoes and full-length pants that extend far enough down so that no skin is exposed between the shoe and the ankle.
To back up these changes, UCLA has dramatically increased the number of annual lab inspections, from 365 to more than 1,700 projected in 2010. Inspection protocols are more rigorous, listing a greater number of criteria requiring corrective action within 48 hours. In addition, corrective action and re-inspection turnaround times have decreased. Moreover, EH&S has produced several new videos pertaining to lab safety.
Unannounced lab inspections are another step, intended to underscore the campus commitment to laboratory safety and to draw attention to the new requirements. 
Chancellor Block accompanies inspectors.
The August 30 inspections uncovered a number of violations, such as problems with gloves; wearing shorts, skirts or open-toed shoes; lack of proper eye protection or lab coats; and improper presence of food and/or drink. Inspectors found at least one worker in 35 of the 65 lab groups visited not in compliance with lab safety rules. Follow-up inspections will be made at all the labs where problems were found.
“While the overall number of non-compliant laboratories was high,” Gibson explained, “the vast majority of individuals present in the laboratories were fully compliant with the PPE policy.  Our goal is nothing less than 100 percent compliance and we need to set a high bar.”
Both Block and Rudnick have attended lab safety training conducted for principal investigators to show their support for the program, and this is the first time they have participated in unannounced inspections. 
“We all play a critical role in maintaining safety,” Block said in explaining why he participated in the visits. “UCLA’s immense research operation only magnifies the importance of safe laboratory practices. With so many investigators and students working in our labs, it is critical that UCLA have strong policies and emphasize good safety protocols among our faculty, staff and students. As chancellor, I want everyone to know that safety is a campus priority and that we will not tolerate unsafe conditions.”
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