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Fatal work accident in UCLA chemistry lab subject of trial

The purpose of this blog is to discuss work-related injuries and, in particular, workers' compensation. Too often, major accidents happen on construction sites or in industrial plants, and those accidents tend to make headlines. But the truth is that employees can suffer serious injuries in virtually every profession. Los Angeles residents who have been injured on the job need to be aware of their legal rights and responsibilities.

A fatal work-related accident is the subject of a pending case involving a University of California chemistry professor. While he was heading up a chemistry lab at UCLA, a young research assistant suffered fatal burns when a piece of lab equipment broke.

The young woman was transferring t-butyl lithium between containers when the plastic syringe used in the process came apart. An air-ignited chemical compound spilled, and the 23-year-old suffered burns on almost half of her body. She passed away 18 days after the accident.

Having received her bachelor's degree in chemistry only five months prior, the assistant was hired and entrusted with lab duties. She was never trained, however, in handling the dangerous chemicals that burned her, and she was not protected by a lab coat when the accident happened.

The 43-year-old professor claims that the woman's previous training at another job and the training from a senior technician equipped her to do her job safely. But prosecutors say that, in fact, no one trained her specifically to handle the dangerous chemicals.

Now the chemistry professor is facing criminal charges, including a failure to provide safety training and a failure to improve an unsafe work environment.

Not every such accident leads to a criminal trial. Injurious work accidents can also be handled in administrative hearings or in civil court. In any case, injured workers or their families need to be aware of their right to pursue workers' compensation benefits under California law.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "UCLA chemistry professor ordered to stand trial in fatal lab fire," Kim Christensen, April 26, 2013

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