Death of UCLA Researcher Heightens
Lab Safety Awareness
The tragic accidental death last winter of UCLA researcher Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji after an accident in her laboratory, has prompted faculty and administration at universities across the United States to review and re-emphasis the responsibilities of faculty for researchers and students who work in their labs. On December 23, 2008, Sangji was performing a fairly common procedure with a pyrophoric material when some accidentally spilled on to her polyester sweater and ignited. Over 40% of her body was burned and she died 19 days later. A subsequent investigation by California OSHA lead to citations and fines for inadequate training, improper use of protective clothing, failure to correct safety violations noted on the October, 2008 inspection performed by UCLA’s EHS Office, and non-existent records of training on the specific procedure being performed. Currently criminal and civil charges are being considered against the PI for wrongful death.
Labs are extremely diverse spaces that may contain many different types of potentially hazardous materials or equipment.
At MIT all personnel who work with potentially hazardous materials or equipment are required to take the appropriate safety training provided by the EHS Office in either Web form or live.
Lab Specific Training, which covers unique issues for each lab, is provided by some combination of the PI, his/her lab EHS Representative, or the department, lab or center’s EHS Coordinator. This is required to be given by each lab as new people arrive or whenever a new procedure, hazardous material or equipment is introduced.
The Institute’s Committee on Toxic Chemicals, chaired by Professor Rick Danheiser, has and will continue to review MIT’s policies with respect to chemical use and recommend changes. Policies on the selection and use of lab coats and protective eye wear have recently been revised and are now being implemented.
Faculty should do the following:
- Review the safe use of hazardous materials and/or equipment with your lab group.
- Make sure everyone in your group (including you) has completed all the required EHS training. You, your department, lab, or center’s EHS Coordinator or your lab EHS Representative can access the Institute’s database to determine status of training.
- Enforce the use of protective clothing and eye protection when required in your lab.
The following information may be helpful to you: