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A research university's rapid response to a fatal chemistry accident: Safety changes and outcomes

  • Gibson, James H.
  • Schröder, Imke
  • Wayne, Nancy L.
Published Article
Journal of Chemical Health & Safety
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2014
DOI: 10.1016/j.jchas.2014.01.003


The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) quickly and comprehensively transformed its laboratory safety program following a chemistry accident in December 2008 that caused the death of a researcher. UCLA's Chancellor immediately announced sweeping changes in the laboratory safety program and challenged UCLA to become “Best in Class” in academic laboratory safety. Given the size of UCLA's lab researcher population and the decentralized nature of the campus, it became a daunting task to reach out and improve compliance with newly implemented safety policies. The Office of Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) improved their operations, enhanced overall inspection procedures, and instituted mandatory laboratory safety training of PIs and researchers. A Laboratory Hazard Assessment Tool (LHAT) was implemented to aid in the identification of hazards, track laboratory space and personnel, and guide lab groups in compliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) policies. Laboratory inspections were increased by more than 4-fold in 2012 as compared to 2007 and now followed a comprehensive checklist to improve reproducibility and thoroughness of the inspection process. To provide better customer service to the research community and expedite corrective actions, all laboratory inspection reports are required to be issued the next business day. Unannounced PPE inspections began in 2010, and inspection findings showed a robust decrease in non-compliance with the PPE policy within one year of its implementation. As of the first half of 2013, all PIs of active laboratory research programs had completed the initial, in-class PI-specific laboratory safety training. In 2012, more than 20,000 EH&S safety classes were completed either in-class or online by PIs, lab supervisors, research staff, students, and visitors to UCLA's research laboratories. Overall, analysis of outcomes from changes in UCLA's lab safety program indicates rapid improvements in compliance with lab safety regulations such as increased PPE use. Lab safety changes required commitment and cooperation at all levels – from executive leadership, to health and safety experts, to deans and department chairs, and to PIs and researchers.

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