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Beryl Lieff Benderly

Lab Safety Repercussions of Sangji Case Extend Beyond Campus

Our coverage of the Sheri Sangji case, in which a 23-year-old research technician suffered fatal burns, has concentrated on its ramifications for academic research laboratories. The potential repercussions of the accident, however, extend beyond the research enterprise to the clinical and pathology labs that do studies to determine the medical condition of patients, says an expert on that industry. 

Writing in DARK Daily, a trade publication covering clinical and pathology labs, editor-in-chief Robert Michel notes that the Sangji case “may create a precedent for liability in research
laboratory settings as well as for accidents in pathology and clinical
laboratories.” A spokesman for the American Clinical Laboratory Association tells Science Careers that the United States has more than 100,000 clinical labs. Michel advises clinical chemists, and by extension, others employed in such labs, to follow the case. 

“What bears watching as this case moves toward a final resolution is what new legal precedents may result,” Michel states. “It is the first time that criminal charges have been filed against a university and a professor following a laboratory accident and legal experts believe it won’t be the last.”

Michel also discusses the case of another “young laboratory research associate,” 25-year-old Richard Din, who died in May 2011 less than a day after being exposed to the deadly Niesseria meningitis virus while working at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“The deaths of both Din and Sangji–along with the criminal charges filed in the Sangji case–are warnings that the laboratory safety bar is being raised, along with penalties for not taking required safety precautions,” Michel warns. “For that reason, everyone associated with clinical laboratory medicine and anatomical pathology should take notice of these developments and take the necessary steps to maintain the highest level of safety in their clinical labs and research labs.”

The fact that Michel sees beneficial effects of these cases on lab safety standards in his industry is very good news indeed.