Date: Tue, 9 Jun 2009 18:01:21 -0400
Reply-To: "Erik A. Talley" <ert2002**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: "Erik A. Talley" <ert2002**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Subject: UCLA appeals state findings in fatal lab fire,0,4566990.s
From the Los Angeles Times
UCLA appeals state findings in fatal lab fire
Cal/OSHA had cited workplace-safety violations in the December death of
staff research assistant Sheri Sangji. The school says it has made required
changes and paid more than $31,000 in fines.
By Kim Christensen

June 6, 2009

UCLA has appealed state regulators' findings of serious workplace-safety
violations in the fatal burning of a staff research assistant last year in a
lab fire.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found last month
that Sheri Sangji, 23, was not properly trained and was not wearing
protective clothing Dec. 29 when an experiment with air-sensitive chemicals
burst into flames.

University officials say they have made the required changes and have paid
the more than $31,000 in fines assessed by regulators. 

Kevin Reed, vice chancellor for legal affairs, said the May 26 appeal will
allow UCLA to stipulate that it admits no fault in connection with
Cal/OSHA's findings, a move aimed at limiting the university's liability.

The appeal is necessary to make clear "that there was no citation or finding
that can be used against the university in any future proceeding," Reed said
in a statement.

Such proceedings might include lawsuits by labor unions or criminal action
by prosecutors, Reed said in an interview. Cal/OSHA officials have said they
routinely present their findings in death cases to district attorneys for

Workers' compensation rules may limit the family's legal options. But
Sangji's sister, Naveen, said the family is pushing for an investigation by
the district attorney. More than 1,300 people have signed an online petition
urging one. 

"We would like to see the district attorney take this up," said Naveen
Sangji, a Harvard medical student who has been critical of the
investigations by UCLA and Cal/OSHA. "It is time for an independent party to
step up, someone who is not affiliated with UCLA."

Among other things, Cal/OSHA cited UCLA for not addressing deficiencies
noted in an internal safety inspection two months before the fatal fire in
professor Patrick Harran's organic chemistry laboratory, where Sheri Sangji
worked, including a finding that workers were not wearing lab coats.

When the lab fire occurred, Sangji was transferring about 2 ounces of
t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another when a plastic syringe
came apart in her hands, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when
exposed to air. 

The flash fire set ablaze her rubber gloves and synthetic sweater, causing
serious burns over nearly half of her body. She died 18 days later.

Cal/OSHA's $31,875 fine included $18,000 for Sangji's lack of a lab coat,
which might have kept her highly flammable sweater from catching fire.

Reed said in his statement that many of the corrective measures ordered by
UCLA inspectors had been completed before the Dec. 29 fire but were not
properly documented. 

"Accordingly, the campus filed a technical appeal on these limited grounds,"
he said.

Although UCLA's appeal asserts that none of the safety orders cited by
Cal/OSHA were violated, Reed said the legal maneuver "does not question the
serious nature of the issues" the safety regulators raised.

"On the contrary," he said, "it is UCLA's goal to operate a laboratory
safety program that is a model for other universities, and the campus
implemented multiple and far-reaching improvements as a result of the
comprehensive review ordered by the chancellor after the accident." 


Erik A. Talley, Director
Environmental Health and Safety
Weill Cornell Medical College
Cornell University
402 East 67th Street, Room LA-0020
New York, NY 10065


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