August 17, 2011 / 3:24 PM / 8 years ago

Yale disputes OSHA criticism in student's lab death

AMHERST, Mass (Reuters) - Federal safety regulators say Yale University lab equipment responsible for a student’s accidental death this spring lacked some required safety features, a finding that the school disputed on Tuesday.

Michele Dufault, a senior from Scituate, Massachusetts, was killed on April 12 in the student machine shop in the Sterling Chemistry Lab when her hair got caught in a lathe as she was working on a project.

The Connecticut medical examiner’s office found cause of the accidental death to be asphyxia from neck compression.

In a letter dated August 15, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) told Yale the lathe lacked required safeguards and that the school’s policies and practices for its operation were unsafe.

Such missing features could include an emergency shut-off switch as well as a guard or shield to protect a person using the lathe, OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald told Reuters.

OSHA claimed these items were critical for safely operating the lathe, which dates from about 1962.

Officials found other safety flaws in the shop, including warning signs that were missing and insufficient record keeping, OSHA said. A person operating the lathe alone violates basic safety guidelines, the agency added.

But Yale said OHSA’s assessment contained “significant inaccuracies.”

“The machine in question met ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards, which incorporate both training and personal protective equipment for certain types of machines and activities,” a Yale statement said on Tuesday.

“Machine tool training provided by Yale was extensive, consistently reinforced by professional staff, and confirmed by Yale’s expert to be exemplary.”

Personal protective equipment was provided in the shop and students were told not to use the machines without a “buddy present,” Yale said.

The university, which said it was deeply saddened and troubled by the accident, has begun implementing recommendations following a review of its machine shops and equipment, and its policies and practices, with the goal of enhancing safety and accident prevention.

Monitors will be present in shops at all times they are in use by undergraduates, Yale said.

OSHA did not fine Yale, as it lacks the jurisdiction to do so in cases where students, rather than employees, are affected.

Dufault had a double major in astronomy and physics and intended to pursue a career in oceanography following graduation. She also was a saxophonist in the Yale band.

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