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Linda Chalat
Linda Chalat
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Even at the Best Labs, Safety May be Lacking

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Last April, a piece of lab machinery killed a Yale University student when it ensnared her hair, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that the equipment was missing required safeguards. The accident has exposed problems with the school’s safety policies, federal safety investigators said in a letter to the school.

However, OSHA did not fine Yale, saying it lacked jurisdiction because there was no employer-employee relationship. The student, a physics and astronomy major, was working alone in the lab when her hair was pulled into a fast-spinning lathe.

OSHA determined that the lathe, built in 1962, lacked an emergency stop button that could shut off power and was missing physical guards to protect the operator. The OSHA letter says rules for using the equipment, including warnings, were not posted. Yale also should ensure students don’t work alone, establish specific hours of operation and implement a formal training program, the letter said.

School officials said after the accident that the university was stepping up its safety training and would limit access by undergraduate students to specified hours when monitors were present.

But this type of accident is not uncommon. We have represented a lab employee working in a local university research lab who had her hand nearly amputated due to a defective lab dishwasher with no dead-man switch. And we had a client lose his arm in an industrial accident involving a rotating brush in which his hand was caught.

These accidents could also have been prevented with proper guards in place, and power-off switches placed at the danger points. But to err on the side of safety, always restrain hair, wear tight-fitting clothing and avoid pinch points on moving machinery.