Cal/OSHA issues additional fines for fatal UCLA lab fire

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Source: The Compliance Center (ICC)

Cal/OSHA officials have notified UCLA that it is issuing additional citations regarding lab safety, and levying $67,720 in additional fines following a fatal lab accident on campus.

Campus officials said they are troubled that Cal/OSHA appears to be jettisoning the conclusions of the agency's previous report on the same subject and ignoring the far-reaching steps that UCLA has taken since a tragic lab accident in December 2008. A staff research associate died in January 2009 from injuries sustained in the chemical fire.

'We believe many of Cal/OSHA's citations relate to previous compliance issues and do not reflect current operations and procedures, especially as they pertain to training,' said Kevin Reed, UCLA vice chancellor for legal affairs. 'We intend to vigorously fight these citations.'

Reed said it is unclear clear whether Cal/OSHA is questioning the competency of its earlier investigation or whether the agency is responding to outside pressure — especially in the context of ongoing collective bargaining between a labor union and the University of California system.

Following the lab accident, UCLA cooperated fully in a comprehensive review conducted by seasoned Cal/OSHA investigators. Their report was issued in May 2009. The campus mitigated the violations for which it was cited and paid the associated fines.

Since the accident, UCLA has made multiple and far-reaching amendments to laboratory safety programs, including more rigorous inspection protocols that list a greater number of inspection criteria and require corrective action and reinspection within 48 hours.

Many additional enhancements are in progress, including a clarified policy on the use of personal protective equipment and expanded outreach and training.

'We believe our actions have strongly demonstrated a campuswide commitment to enhancing lab safety programs so that they can serve as a model for all research universities,' Reed said.

Staff research assistant Sheri Sangji, 23, died in January 2009 after suffering severe burns when t-butyl lithium she was working with exploded in flames during a December 2008 chemistry lab experiment at UCLA. She hadn't been wearing a protective lab coat, and hadn't been properly trained, according to Cal/OSHA.

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