On January 16, 2009, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) lab technician Sherharbano “Sheri” Sangji died of burns she had sustained over 2 weeks earlier from a fire in the lab of Prof. Patrick Harran. Yesterday, UCLA announced the creation of the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety. “Believed to be the first of its kind in the country,” the center will do research on ways to improve safety in laboratories, at universities and other organizations, says the UCLA press release.
For lab chiefs in industry, that question does not arise. They generally know from the outset of their employment that a serious safety incident will mean major harm to their careers. This is not the case in academe, where powerful PIs who bring their universities large grants generally operate with much impunity.