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Update: Tragic machine shop accident kills student at Yale University

Last spring, one of our work injury posts discussed a tragic occurrence at Yale University where a talented senior was killed in an on-campus accident while working on a science-related project.

On April 12, Michele D. was killed in a freak early morning accident in a Yale machine shop when her hair became entangled in a lathe - a machine that shapes wood or metal at high speeds.

The accident drew national headlines and prompted a review by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In recent developments, OSHA has finally completed its review of the incident and determined that the university did not follow proper safety standards to prevent work injuries/fatalities.

Specifically, an OSHA letter to Yale University officials reveals that the safety agency found issues with the equipment used by Michele D., as well as the machine shop in which she was working.

These issues include the following:

  • The lathe in question was manufactured in 1962 and found to be lacking both an emergency shut-off switch and a protective guard/shield
  • Proper warnings were not posted in the machine shop
  • Safety inspections didn't address the lack of proper protective guards/shields
  • Surveys of personal protective equipment were left unfinished

The letter goes on to recommend that Yale take the following measures:

  • Create a specific schedule of hours in which students can work in the machine shop(s)
  • Ensure monitors are present during these set hours
  • Require completion of a formal training program by students

Yale, in turn, questioned the findings of the OSHA letter, pointing out that it always provided formal training and proper protective gear to students using machine tools, and that all students were informed not to work alone.

The university also maintains that all machines were subjected to regular inspection and maintenance.

"Unfortunately, OSHA's assessment contains a number of significant inaccuracies," read a released statement from Yale.

It is worth noting that Yale was not issued a fine by OSHA because the agency lacked jurisdiction. Specifically, the accident was not in the context of an employer-employee relationship.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Names have been withheld to protect the identity of the victims.

Related Resources:

The Star Tribune "OSHA finds safety gaps in student's lab death; Yale says machine met national safety standards" Aug. 12, 2011

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