Tragic UCLA lab fire is a safety reminder

By: May 7th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

This past Monday state regulators fined UCLA more than $31,000 for three “serious” violations involving the fatal burning of a staff research assistant in December during a chemistry lab fire, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The article reports that Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji, 23, was not wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a fire-resistant lab coat, nor had she been properly trained, when an experiment exploded, according to the article. She was left with second-and third-degree burns on 43% of her body after attempting to transfer roughly two ounces of t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another. The plastic syringe she was using came apart in her hands, and the chemical compound ignited instantly when exposed to the air, which set fire to her rubber gloves and synthetic sweater.

The $31,875 fine issued by Cal/OSHA included $18,000 for the fact that she wasn’t wearing a lab coat, according to the article.

Although this incident took place in a research lab, many could attest to the high volume of hazardous chemicals in a medical lab. This accident further recognizes the importance of training and documentation of that training. We tend to get busy in the lab and forget that an atmosphere of safety must be reinforced into any lab’s culture so that it becomes an everyday occurrence. Safety never takes a vacation and there can never be too much emphasis on safety education and compliance.

This unfortunate tragedy also serves as a reminder for the need for appropriate attire and PPE in the lab. Lack of funding for the proper PPE is not acceptable. As the article notes, the fines were not substantial, however criminal suits are pending and those could be life altering for the university as well as the staff.

Although we may not think about it on a daily basis, this is a sad reminder that even the most basic PPE such as lab coats or goggles can be life-savers in any kind of laboratory.


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