Fatal Accident at Yale Laboratory-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fatal Accident at Yale Laboratory

A female undergraduate student at Yale University died in a tragic accident in a Chemistry Laboratory machine shop just a few weeks ago.  While the details of the incident are not yet fully known (or at least fully reported), it is understood that the student was working alone in the laboratory at the time.  A similar, fatal lab accident occurred about two years ago at UCLA, in a situation where a student was also working alone in a laboratory with a very hazardous material.

Then, as now, the issue of permitting lab workers to be alone in laboratories with dangerous materials and equipment has arisen, along with further questions of whether prohibition of working alone impedes with the academic freedom and opportunities universities try to offer their students and researchers.

While the safest avenue is to fully prohibit lab personnel from working along with hazardous materials and equipment, there are circumstances where this was felt to present low risk of problems.  Consequently, in 2010, the Carnegie Mellon Laboratory Safety Committee (LSC) developed and approved a Working Alone Policy for lab personnel working with hazardous materials and equipment.  Essentially, the practice requires the written permission of the laboratory Principal Investigator, along with their acknowledgement that they have considered the risks and some suggested mitigation options.

It is critical that all lab personnel know of this policy and ensure that it is being complied with.  You can find details in the Chemical Hygiene Plan located here and the policy is outlined on pages 11-12.  Further information and forms referred to are available from the EH&S offices.

By: Mark Banister, markb2@andrew.cmu.edu, 412-268-1493