Friday, August 3, 2012

The exploding laboratory....who is responsible?

In 2008, an accident in a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) chemistry lab claimed the life of a young research assistant Sheri Sangji. An inflammable chemical she was working with had burst into flames. Not even wearing a protective lab coat, her sweater caught fire. Her lab colleagues didn't even know how to put out the flames, and she didn't even know well enough to get under the safety shower in the lab.

In the aftermath, UCLA and the Principle Investigator of the lab were charged as there was evidence of negligence with respect to lab safety procedures and training. Just a week ago, the university reached a settlement and had charges dropped after agreeing to put in place extensive corrective measures for lab safety, and also setting up a half a million US$ scholarship in Ms Sangji's name. Charges against the investigator Prof Patrick Harran, however, remain. At least for the moment.

Meanwhile, the outcome of the investigations into the NUS lab accident last year remains unclear. I hope there is no intent to sweep the proceeding under the carpet, because there is so much for us to learn from the accident. The WSH Act has yet to be clearly applied to lab safety in Singapore, and it is instructive for all involved in the labs to see how lines of responsibility are drawn should accidents occur. This is not a matter to be played out behind the scenes but a lesson to be placed in the public domain. Safety in our research labs is an important message to drive home.

1 comment:

dancingbunny said...

It usually takes an accident for people to remain careful and vigilant about lab safety
I can tell you, many years in the lab, lots of the lab people I know, never wear lab coat or covered shoes when they work in lab. This, despite training, warnings or even proper meetings with the people involved.

They just don't care, take for granted and simply complacent.

Just like how people were so paranoid when there is a few sneezes in the mrt or buses during the sars period. The moment you sneeze, you feel hundreds of stares pricking you like needles. Now? Nothing of the sort. People with cough and cold openly cough or sneeze without covering their nose or mouth. No outbreak, no vigilance, pure complacency. This is the similarity I find between social and personal responsibilities