OSHA Issues Notice in VA Lab Worker's Death

It notifies the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center of violations for failing to protect workers who were researching a bacterium that can cause meningitis.

OSHA has issued a notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions to the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center after completing its investigation into the April 2012 death of Richard Din, a research associate at the center's research laboratory. The notice -- OSHA cannot penalize a federal agency in the same way it does private companies, but the notice requires the center to take corrective actions -- lists three serious violations for failing to protect laboratory workers researching Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterium that can cause meningitis.

Din was employed by the Northern California Institute for Research and Education but "was working at the VA Medical Center and was considered a Department of Veterans Affairs employee during projects at the laboratory based on an agreement between the VA and NCIRE," according to OSHA's news release. "Workers in the laboratory were inoculating live bacteria outside of a biosafety cabinet, which is an enclosed laboratory workspace used to handle pathogens safely in a laboratory environment."

"Richard Din died because the VA failed to supervise and protect these workers adequately, even though they agreed NCIRE workers were covered as VA employees," said Ken Atha, OSHA's regional administrator in San Francisco. "Research hospitals and medical centers have the responsibility as employers to protect workers from exposure to recognized on-the-job hazards such as this."

The violations include failing to require workers to use a safety enclosure when performing microbiological work with a viable bacteria culture; provide training on the signs and symptoms of illnesses as a result of employee exposure to a viable bacteria culture; and provide available vaccines for workers potentially exposed to bacteria.

"Cal/OSHA shares federal OSHA's concerns," said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. "We were saddened by this senseless loss; however, we remain hopeful that future incidents can be prevented at this and other facilities throughout California. This is why Cal/OSHA adopted a standard in 2009 to protect workers from diseases, such as meningitis, that can be contracted through contaminated air in laboratories."

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