A UCLA report  released last week seems to be the final chapter on an extensive and well-publicized lab safety incident dating back to the beginning of the year.
Chancellor Gene Block commissioned a campus-wide laboratory safety committee after a staff research associate died in January  from injuries suffered in a lab fire on December 29, 2008. The committee was asked to assess safety programs and make recommendations to avoid further safety related incidents.
In addition to documenting some of the existing efforts and resources already employed by the university, the report identifies five key areas for improvement:
- Develop a strong safety culture: This includes a “top down culture of safety consciousness,” according to the report, in which chancellors, deans, and department heads support efforts to improve lab safety.
- Improve and expand outreach and training: The report suggests “improvements in the quality, frequency, availability, tracking, and documentation of training.” The report suggests these improvements will help instill safety habits among lab professionals.
- Increase accountability and oversight: After the accident, the university took measures to increase oversight. The UCLA Office of Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) requires each laboratory to quantify chemical, biological, and other hazards, specify and train staff on applicable PPE, and provide written documentation. EH&S inspection forms identify both critical and non-critical deficiencies. Critical deficiencies will be re-inspected and should be corrected within 48 hours.
- Improve laboratory design: The report says EH&S and other lab experts “should routinely be consulted to help ensure the safe design and renovation of laboratories and ensure regulatory compliance.” Fire protection, waste storage, and ergonomics are some of the main considerations in lab design.
- Improve inventory and recordkeeping: The report suggests a streamlined documentation system for tracking laboratory space, personnel, hazards, and material inventories. This information should be collected, analyzed, and updated.
“I want to be best in class at this,” Block told the Los Angeles Times  after reviewing the 87-page report. “In a sense, this was a wake-up call. . . . We could do better, and we will do better.”
Don’t wait for your lab to have a wake-up call to evaluate and implement employee safety measures. The above suggestions from the UCLA report are applicable for any laboratory, and a safety review is always worthwhile if it means preventing a potentially devastating accident.