Yale Lab Where Student Died Lacked Safety Gear, U.S. Finds

Yale University failed to equip a laboratory lathe with safeguards or provide protective gear for students, a U.S. agency said after investigating the death of a woman whose hair became entangled in the equipment.

Michele Dufault, a senior weeks away from graduating, was found dead April 13 after using the lathe in the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory. Yale’s machine lacked an emergency stop button, according to a letter yesterday from a regional office of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The agency said it wouldn’t fine Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, because it doesn’t have jurisdiction, according to the letter.

OSHA’s assessment has “significant inaccuracies” about safety, training and maintenance of machine-shop equipment, Tom Conroy, a Yale spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Machine tool training provided by Yale was extensive, consistently reinforced by professional staff and confirmed by Yale’s expert to be exemplary,” Conroy said. “Personal protective equipment was provided in the shop.”

Deficiencies found in the Yale lab included a failure to post rules and regulations for using the machines, according to the letter from Robert Kowalski, OSHA’s area director in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Dufault, an astronomy and physics major, was working in the laboratory on a project at the time of the accident. Her body was found by students working in the building, according to an April statement by Yale President Richard Levin.

‘Machine Safeguarding’

The lathe was made in 1962 and had been owned by Yale since at least 2000, according to the OSHA letter.

“Guards were not provided” on the machine, according to OSHA. In addition, site safety inspections of the mechanical shop “did not address machine safeguarding,” OSHA said.

The university said in April that it would assess safety policies and practices in its laboratories, machine shops and school facilities where undergraduates are permitted to work.

OSHA said it couldn’t issue citations because “there must be an employer/employee relationship” and Dufault was a student, according to the letter.

Yale should develop an inspection program conducted by safety professionals and set up a personal protective training program, according to OSHA. The university should also require two people at all times when the machines are being used, the agency said.

“Students were repeatedly instructed not to use machinery without a buddy present,” Conroy said.

The Associated Press reported the OSHA letter earlier today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at sarmour@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net.

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