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Saturday, May 18, 2024

New research lab safety regulations to be implemented after delay

In an effort to reduce students’ exposure to lab risks, UC officials released new policies regarding lab safety that were to be put into effect March 1.

However, the implementation of these policies has been delayed in order to allow for the review of more comments from campuses about the new regulations.

These regulations include required personal protective equipment (PPE) students must wear at all times while they are inside a lab. PPE is chosen by supervisors based on their assessment of hazardous materials in the workplace and will be provided to students at no cost. This new policy applies to students enrolled in academic courses where PPE is required by the instructor and/or indicated in the course syllabus.

These new policies came as a response to an accident at UCLA, where research scientist Sheri Sangji died in a lab fire four years ago after a small quantity of a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air was spilled during an extraction from a sealed container.

There have been many reports about the accident and the ensuing lawsuit against the UC and her supervising professor, Patrick Harran, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the charges.

Some examples of PPE include flame-retardant lab coats, gloves, foot protection such as steel-toed shoes, eye protection which includes safety glasses or goggles, protective hearing devices like earplugs or muffs and hard hats.

These new regulations were to be put into effect March 1, however there have been delays due to the fact that the UCOP Office of Risk Services received over 300 comments on the new procedures and all comments need to be reviewed and assessed, according to Erike Young, director of Environmental Health and Safety. The expectation is that the policies will be in effect within the next 30 to 60 days.

Many students are glad to comply with the new regulations.

“I think it’s a good idea. Safety should always take the priority in policymaking. All students and faculty should take the utmost care in maintaining their own safety as well as the safety of others,” said Kevin Cappa, a third-year biomedical engineering student.

However, some believe these new rules are extreme.

Zac Lewis, a Ph.D. candidate in the Microbiology Department, believes these new rules are a reflection of how UC officials are out of touch with the day-to-day activities of UC students.

“The policy doesn’t reflect an understanding of how labs are different from each other. It appears to be written by someone who doesn’t recognize this, and is therefore out of touch,” Lewis said. “The hazards in a lab that uses ethanol as its most dangerous substance are very different [from] a lab that uses toxic heavy metals or studies Ebola virus. Establishing a higher level of minimum PPE for everyone just because of what appears to be potential liability exposure doesn’t seem to be an intelligently designed policy.”

Since 1970, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has had laws with rules that employers must enforce to keep employees safe in the workplace. Each campus has independently administered the requirements of these rules. However, because of the fatal lab fire at UCLA, UC officials elected to provide comprehensive policies that ensured consistent application of the laws, according to Jill Parker, UC Davis associate vice chancellor of Safety Services.

Parker said the policy drafted is a collaboration among faculty, staff, researchers, safety specialists, outside subject experts and attorneys.

“In our classrooms, we are teaching our next generation of scientists. Good lab practices are paramount to good science. All of these requirements are not only normal, but absolutely expected in every modern lab in the scientific community,” she said. “To prepare our students with a lesser standard than best practice would be failing in our obligation to prepare our students for their ultimate life profession and to keep them safe in the process.”

New guides and evaluation tools to help lab supervisors implement these new regulations will also be released. According to Parker, Safety Services staff at UC Davis will be assigned to work with faculty to help with all aspects of these new implementations to ensure consistent application and understanding.

NATASHA QABAZARD can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


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