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Engineering | Safe Engineering

In the last few years there have been some significant accidents and fatalities at Research Universities that have brought increased attention by regulators and others on the culture of safety in the US Higher Education System.

  • On January 16, 2009 UCLA Research Associate Sheri Sangji succumbs to her burns at the Grossman Burn Center.  Ms. Sangji had been severely burned in a lab fire 18 days previously.
  • On January 7, 2010 a Graduate Student in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at Texas Tech University lost three fingers, suffered hand and face burns and one of his eyes was damaged in an experiment on detonable materials. Texas Tech was doing the experiment as a subcontract to Northeastern University on a Department of Homeland Security grant.  The amount of detonable materials used in the experiment (10g) was much higher than recommended to the Principal Investigators (100mg).  The explosion was investigated by the US Chemical Safety Board (USCSB), a federal agency that has historically been involved in large chemical disasters at refineries etc. The agency issued a report entitled,” Texas Tech University Laboratory Explosion Case Study “on October 19, 2011.
  • The report indicated major problems at Texas Tech with the organizational structure for safety, accident and near miss follow up, the Texas Tech Chemical Hygiene Plan and research specific protocols among other things.   The report also questioned the frequency of significant research chemical accidents in the US Higher Education system.
  • On April 13, 2011 a Yale undergraduate student, Michele Dufault, was asphyxiated when her hair became entangled in a Chemistry Department Machine Shop lathe in the early hours of the morning.  The New Haven Fire Department responded to call at 2:33am.  No one witnessed the accident and no one was around to power off the lathe as Michele’s hair became entangled.  The incident was investigated by Federal OSHA and a Letter of Findings issued to Yale. Yale disputed some of the findings.  OSHA can’t issue citations or fines unless there is an employee-employer relationship.
  • In July, 2012 the American Chemical Society issued the monograph, “Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions: A Report of the Safety Culture Task Force of the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety”.  The report was issued in response to the USCSB investigation of Texas Tech, the UCLA fatality and other chemical accidents that had occurred in US Higher Education.  The report recommends 17 points to transition US Higher Education’s Safety Culture to a higher level and incorporate safety into the training of all science undergraduates and graduate students.
  • This summer an ASU Task Force was developed to examine how ASU should respond to the Professor Harran case, the USCSB investigation of Texas Tech and the American Chemical Society report on Safety Culture. It was determined that a Lab Safety Subcommittee should be charged to examine the reports and develop recommendations to the EH&S Policy Committee and ASU Leadership on a strategy to align ASU’s programs with the recommendations.