Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to those of you who oversee research laboratories to make you aware of two recent events that have focused national attention on laboratory safety in academia.

On October 19, 2011, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a report on a laboratory explosion at Texas Tech University in 2010. The explosion resulted in the loss of three fingers, eye damage, burns, and other injuries to a graduate student. The Chemical Safety Board is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. It also reviews the effectiveness of agency regulations and enforcement activities. Though the Chemical Safety Board has no regulatory authority, the Board's findings must be taken seriously.
More information at

On December 27, 2011, the Los Angeles District Attorney filed felony charges against a UCLA professor and the Regents of the University of California for violations of labor laws in the death of a researcher that occurred almost three years earlier. The tragic death resulted from a laboratory accident in which a pyrophoric chemical ignited and caused severe burns that were ultimately fatal to the researcher. If convicted, the professor could face more than four years in prison and UCLA up to $1.5 million in fines on each of the three counts.  According to at least one news report, this criminal case may be the nation's first stemming from an academic laboratory accident.
More information at

Though the cases are pending, these events reiterate the expectation that universities and faculty ensure that their students and employees work in a safe environment. Both UCLA and Texas Tech have undergone profound institutional changes as a result of these incidents. It is prudent that we at Illinois make sure that we are taking appropriate steps to protect the safety of all laboratory workers. I have directed the Division of Research Safety to review campus laboratory safety guidance and policies, to develop metrics to assess laboratory safety, and to work closely with investigators to ensure safety of all our laboratory workers.

Here's what you can do:
* Maintain a consistently strong safety culture in your laboratories. Two very visible actions are to ensure that all laboratory workers use proper personal protective equipment at all times and that floors, counters, hoods, and shelves in
your laboratory be kept free of clutter.
* Ensure that all of your laboratory workers have both general laboratory safety training through DRS and that you provide additional laboratory-specific training to address potential hazards in your laboratories. Make sure that all training is well documented. See:
* Verify that you have a Chemical Hygiene Plan which is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
* DRS provides templates if you do not have a plan. See:
* Promptly address all unsafe conditions. Remember that DRS can provide assistance to you in identifying, assessing,and mitigating hazards.

Please review these issues with your laboratory group, and feel free to contact my office or DRS with any ideas for improving laboratory safety on our campus.


Robert A. Easter
Interim Vice Chancellor for Research


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Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research

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