UCLA has dropped its appeal of safety citations in connection with a lab fire that claimed the life of an employee. But that may not be the end of trouble for the university in this case as another investigation has started.
Lab assistant Sheri Sangji was burned over about half of her body and died 18 days after the lab fire. She was transferring about 2 ounces of t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another when a plastic syringe fell apart in her hands.
The chemical ignited when it was exposed to air, setting her rubber gloves and synthetic sweater on fire.
UCLA paid $31,875 in fines for violations including Sangji’s lack of a special fire-resistant lab coat and lack of proper employee training.
However, it appealed the citations for a technical reason: so that the citations couldn’t be used against UCLA in any future proceeding, such as a lawsuit.
In a written statement, UCLA said, “The university wants to direct its resources to strengthening laboratory safety programs and building a model for other institutions to follow … our limited appeal of Cal/OSHA’s citations has detracted from that effort.”
Meanwhile, Cal/OSHA chief Len Welsh will oversee a criminal investigation of the fatal fire, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Sangji’s family has criticized Cal/OSHA’s civil probe as inadequate.
If Cal/OSHA finds evidence of a crime, it will turn the case over to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for possible prosecution.