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Lab Safety

University Of California Reaches Agreement In Connection With Charges In Lab Researcher’s Death

Lab Safety: Felony charges against UC system are dropped, case against UCLA’s Patrick Harran continues

by Michael Torrice , Jyllian Kemsley
July 27, 2012

Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times
UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran (left) appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court July 27 with his attorney.
Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times
UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran (left) appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court July 27 with his attorney.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office today dropped felony charges against the University of California Regents as part of an agreement involving labor code violations relating to the 2008 death of a chemistry staff research assistant.

Credit: Courtesy of Naveen Sangji
Credit: Courtesy of Naveen Sangji

To download a PDF of the UC agreement, go to

To download a PDF of defense's motion, go to

Similar charges against UC Los Angeles chemistry professor Patrick Harran were not dropped. The case against Harran has been postponed until Sept. 5 while the judge reviews a motion filed by his attorney challenging the credibility of a state investigator.

In the UC agreement, the Regents, the governing body of the University of California system, accepted responsibility for the laboratory conditions that led to researcher Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji’s death after a Dec. 29, 2008, fire in Harran’s laboratory. Sangji was working with tert-butyllithium, which ignites spontaneously in air, when the plunger came out of the syringe barrel. Sangji, 23, was not wearing a lab coat, and her clothes caught fire, burning her torso, arms, and hands. She died of her injuries 18 days after the fire.

The university system also agreed to establish an environmental law scholarship in Sangji’s name at UC Berkeley and to maintain a laboratory safety program for chemistry and/or biochemistry departments at all of its campuses.

The safety program specified in the agreement requires safety training for principal investigators and other laboratory personnel. It also includes provisions for written standard operating procedures for a list of chemicals and outlines minimal personal protective equipment for laboratories. Principal investigators must review standard operating procedures and assess whether personal protective equipment is adequate for laboratory procedures.

“UCLA and the Regents have finally admitted that they wronged Sheri terribly,” says Naveen Sangji, Sheri’s sister. “Our family’s pain will not diminish, but our hope, of course, is that no one else has to suffer the way Sheri did, and that such tragedies are avoided in the future.”

The motion filed by Harran’s defense attorney questions the credibility of California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) investigator Brian Baudendistel. He authored the 2009 Cal/OSHA report that the agency sent to the district attorney recommending criminal charges in the case. The district attorney subsequently filed charges on Dec. 27, 2011.

The motion asserts that Baudendistel was convicted of murdering a 26-year-old man during a failed methamphetamine deal in 1985, when Baudendistel was 16. Because Baudendistel was a juvenile, the conviction record was sealed.

The defense team’s motion argues that because Baudendistel had failed to report his criminal record repeatedly—in his job application for Cal/OSHA, a firearms permit, and a private investigator’s license—his credibility is in question. If the judge issuing Harran’s arrest warrant had known about Baudendistel’s credibility issues, the motion says, his report alone wouldn’t support the charges.

The prosecution of Harran, therefore, “has been flawed from the start,” says Thomas P. O’Brien, Harran’s attorney.

“The defendants’ most recent attempt to deflect attention from the charges brought against them simply does not relate in any way to the circumstances of Ms. Sangji’s death or the actual evidence collected in Cal OSHA’s comprehensive investigation,” says a Cal/OSHA statement provided by spokesperson Erika Monterroza.

University of California vice president and general counsel Charles F. Robinson pledged that the UCs will continue to support the defense of Harran, whom he described as a respected and valued member of the UC faculty. “Prof. Harran is not responsible for this horrific accident. The university has acknowledged its role in overseeing the laboratory conditions on that date.”

To download a PDF of the UC agreement, go to

To download a PDF of defense's motion, go to



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hathama (July 27, 2012 8:46 PM)
well done California university,the rest should be serious about this subject & take action as well .It is very nice to find somebody cares about human being& looks after their safety.
Neal Langerman (July 30, 2012 11:05 AM)
The complete Agreement between UC and the LADA related to the Sangji fatality is posted on the CHAS website at:

Much of this Agreement holds UC to do what it should have been doing before Ms Sangji's death. However, UC, as with many academic institutions, has a inherent problem with managing safety ( a "safety culture" deficiency. This Agreement will provide a tool to force the inclusion of safety in academic programs at a level of importance equal to research productivity.

This Agreement has two precedent-setting conditions which will set a new, high bar for academic safety performance. In Appendix A – Sections 3 and 4, PIs and visiting PIs are not allowed to perform any work or supervise any activity until they receive formal laboratory safety training.

This is a powerful requirement which will clearly redefine the position of laboratory safety in the activities of each PI.

In Appendix A section 6, the Agreement requires that SOPs for a list of specific chemicals and chemical classes be written by the lab’s most experienced person and be signed off by the PI. CHAS has broken this list of chemicals out of the Agreement and it can be found as a stand-alone document at the URL above.

These powerful requirements apply to the entire UC system. As such, they will set a performance bar for research institutions across the country.

Jane Clarke (August 6, 2012 12:27 PM)
All of the conditions described as contributing to Ms. Sangji's death are common to academic research laboratories. During my time as a Specialist in Laboratory Safety, I've inspected hundreds of research labs and it's very rare to find one where safety is taken seriously AND enforced. To be effective, a Safety Office must have strong support from their administrators and laboratory directors. In reading the CalOSHA investigator's report, safety inspectors had the authority to close a lab until safety violations are corrected. Typically that only needs to be done once before PIs take safety seriously. If the PIs and Safety personnel work together, they can fins a way to function safely without impeding the research.
Scott Roney (August 14, 2012 3:32 PM)
It was Patrick Harran's lab. He was responsible. He failed to set even minimal safety standards, to establish safe operating procedures, or to provide proper PPE. Had this happened in industry, Harran would have been fired long ago.

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