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OSHA Says Serious Violations Led to Death of Researcher

Employees in Houston and throughout the country rightfully expect to work in a safe environment. While some occupations are inherently risky, employers are required to do all that they can to ensure their employees are as safe as possible on the job. As our readers know, however, not all employees take this responsibility seriously.

Last spring, a 25-year-old researcher died of meningitis that he acquired while working. The man worked in a Veterans Affairs medical center and had to handle bacteria that could cause meningitis. He began noticing symptoms of the disease but did not get treatment until the next day. According to OSHA, though, the VA violated safety rules that directly resulted in the young man's death.

OSHA has rules in place for a reason - to protect the safety of workers in all types of occupations. As we can see from this case, when employers do not adhere to the rules, tragic accidents can happen.

In this case, OSHA said the VA was guilty of multiple serious violations. First, it allowed the researcher to handle the bacteria outside of a biosafety cabinet that provides ventilation to the researcher while keeping harmful germs behind a safety screen. Second, the researcher had not been vaccinated for meningitis and clearly did not understand the symptoms of the disease since it took him a day to seek treatment.

The VA cite in San Francisco, where this incident occurred, has been ordered by OSHA to ensure that its employees are vaccinated for any potential diseases they could acquire in the lab. It will also have to train employees on the signs and symptoms those diseases. Hopefully the VA will ensure that its lab procedures and environment are up to standards set by OSHA. It shouldn't take the tragic death of a worker to prompt a safety review.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "OSHA finds VA at fault for Calif. researcher death," Paul Elias, Feb. 20, 2013

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