Last week, the Associated Press broke news about the results of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration‘s investigation into Yale University undergraduate student Michele Dufault’s death in a lathe accident earlier this year. Dufault died of asphyxia from neck compression after her hair got caught in a lathe when she was working alone in a machine shop.
OSHA can’t issue citations or fines unless there was an employer-employee relationship, which there wasn’t in Dufault’s case. OSHA investigated Dufault’s death because the Connecticut office believed the incident might indicate hazards to employees.
According to the letter OSHA sent to Yale (pdf), the agency’s investigation found that:
- The lathe was a Harrison-Claussing lathe manufactured in 1962 and had been at Yale at least since 2000.
- The lathe did not have a physical safeguard that met American National Standard Institute (ANSI) standards.
- The university did not address machine safeguarding during safety inspections, did not complete or document personal protective equipment assessments, and did not post machine shop rules and regulations.
- OSHA references an outdated ANSI standard. The current standard says that safeguarding can be met by “safe work procedures, preventive maintenance, training, retraining, personal protective equipment and warning signs.”
- Yale believes it met those requirements and other OSHA criticisms through student training and shop oversight.
Yale has also updated its student shop policies and practices (pdf). In a note to the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list, Peter Reinhard, Yale’s director of environmental health & safety, flagged a new tool/equipment hazard classification system that the university has developed. The system categorizes equipment on a scale from one to five, from low-power hand/small bench tools (e.g. palm sanders or soldering irons) to large industrial tools (e.g. full-sized metal lathes or table saws). The hazard classification governs the conditions under which undergraduates, graduate students, or postdocs may use the equipment. Everyone must do a safety review with a shop supervisor and maybe a faculty adviser if they’re planning to use equipment rated category two or higher.
What do Safety Zone readers think? Is the hazard classification system a common-sense approach to monitoring shop work? If you don’t like it, what do you think is better? Anyone have knowledge of industrial shop policies to which we can compare?
Lastly, a note about round-ups: A family vacation rounded out with a child with pneumonia, followed by the first week of school and (next week) the Denver ACS meeting have led to an overwhelming collection of safety news and I’m throwing in the towel for August. We’ll begin afresh in September! If I’ve missed something that you think deserves mention here, though, feel free to let me know.