UCLA has paid $31,875 in fines and taken corrective steps after a lab fire that claimed the life of an employee. But now, the university wants to appeal the citation for a technical reason.
An official says UCLA is appealing the citations so that they can’t be used against the university in any future proceeding, such as a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Lab assistant Sheri Sangji was transferring about 2 ounces of t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another when a plastic syringe came apart in her hands.
The chemical ignited when it was exposed to air, setting her rubber gloves and synthetic sweater ablaze. She was burned over about half of her body and died 18 days later.
Part of the fine, $18,000, was for Sangji’s lack of a lab coat. UCLA was also fined for lack of proper employee training.
UCLA’s fear of further action against it is quite real. Cal-OSHA regularly refer workplace fatalities to district attorneys for review.
Sangji’s sister is calling for a DA investigation, and more than 1,300 people have signed an online petition calling for one.
Another possibility is a lawsuit by a labor union. Sangji’s family may be prevented from filing a lawsuit because of laws that make workers’ comp the exclusive remedy for relatives of a killed employee.
As part of its investigation, Cal-OSHA noted UCLA had not addressed deficiencies found in its own internal safety inspection two months before the fatal fire, including a finding that workers weren’t wearing lab coats.
Lesson for other companies: If your own internal safety audit finds deficiencies, not taking quick action can prove costly.