One of the great things the Ministry of Manpower has been doing over the last decade has been the increasing legislative muscle to ensure workplace safety. The Workplace Safety and Health Act that came into force in 2006 was a major milestone in this direction. Although obvious directed at industrial workplaces, there has been an increasing impact of the Act felt in our research laboratories. Without doubt, our labs are far safer than the labs of old where pretty much anything was possible. Now all labs are covered by safety SOPs, and both students and staff are definitely more aware and safety conscious in all that they do.
The NUS Office of Safety, Health and Environment has actually done a good job in translating and applying the WSH Act to the research labs. In this translation the responsible person in the lab for safety is the investigator in charge of the lab. For more general aspects of lab safety, the employer or the laboratory/institution may be responsible. Even so, things still do go wrong, and when they do sometimes it is difficult to be clear about who the responsible person is.
Many of us have been watching for the outcome of investigations surrounding a lab accident which occurred almost a year ago at the Centre for Life Sciences in the NUS. The accident was apparently a chemical explosion occurring in a lift which resulted in injuries to two men. Technically the WHS and the OSHE interpretation would identify the Principle Investigator as ultimately being responsible for any lapses in safety procedure that resulted in the explosion. But I think there is some shared responsibility with the Centre management.
Investigations have been going on for almost a year without any public statement about the progress of the investigations. According to the WSH Act, penalties can be quite serious. If guilt is found, this may be the first case where a researcher is charged for a lab safety offence.
So we are watching very intently as to how this will play out. The situation may be complicated by the fact that both the investigator and the Centre management involve high profile foreign talents.
5 years ago