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Lab Safety

The University of Utah’s lab safety system is ‘broken,’ audit says

Report recommends tracking whether deficiencies are corrected, says administrators and personnel must take ownership of problems

by Jyllian Kemsley
May 16, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 20


The University of Utah’s laboratory safety system is “broken” and needs better oversight, says a report by the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General issued May 14.

The report faults university administration and its Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety department for relying on metrics such as number of inspections or injuries as indicators of safety performance rather than looking at whether safety deficiencies were corrected. Of 110 research groups that had a major chemical safety deficiency identified in a 2016 or 2017 inspection, 54 groups repeated at least one of those deficiencies in a subsequent inspection, the legislative auditors found.

“The university’s lab safety system appears stagnant and focused on performing inspections rather than addressing problems,” the report says.

University administrators and lab personnel must take ownership of their lab safety responsibilities, the report adds. It also recommends that labs conduct self-assessments and undergo peer reviews.

The report does not identify who requested the audit. It says that “the requestor was interested whether sufficient policies and practices were in place, including an assessment of the monitoring system for assessing their performance.” The audit follows an external review of the university’s safety program commissioned by the school in October 2017. Recommendations from that review have not been implemented yet. They are being evaluated by a Lab Safety Culture Task Force, with a report expected this month, the audit report says.

“We recognize that it is imperative that all identified issues are addressed, and that the resulting solutions are timely, comprehensive, effective, and sustained,” university president Ruth V. Watkins says in a letter to the legislative auditor general in response to the audit.



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