A piece of lab machinery that killed a Yale University student when it ensnared her hair was missing required safeguards, and the accident exposed problems with the school’s safety policies, federal safety investigators said in a letter to the school.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn’t fine Yale, saying it lacked jurisdiction because there was no employer-employee relationship. But in a letter obtained by The Associated Press, OSHA told school officials that it found numerous problems in the machine shop where Michele Dufault was killed on April 12.
Yale challenged the findings, saying the machinery did meet national safety standards.
Dufault, a physics and astronomy major from Massachusetts, who was close to graduating, was working alone in the lab when her hair was pulled into a fast-spinning lathe. Police say they received a call at 2:30 a.m. local time, though the time of the accident was not clear.
The lathe, built in 1962, lacked an emergency stop button that could shut off power and was missing physical guards to protect the operator, OSHA wrote in the letter. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Tuesday through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The OSHA letter says rules for using the equipment, including warnings, were not posted. Yale also should ensure students don’t work alone, establish specific hours of operation and implement a formal training program, the letter said.
Surveys of personal protective equipment were not completed and documented, and safety inspections did not address machine safeguarding, according to the letter.
Asked if OSHA would have fined Yale if it had jurisdiction, Robert Kowalski, the agency’s area director, said, “That’s a good possibility.”
Yale says it provided extensive machine tool training and personal protective equipment and students were repeatedly told not to use machinery without someone else present. Yale says staff inspected and maintained machines regularly.
“Unfortunately, OSHA’s assessment contains a number of significant inaccuracies,” Yale said in a statement.
School officials said after the accident that the university was stepping up its safety training and would limit access by undergraduate students to specified hours when monitors were present.
Yale has said Dufault completed a safety course that included instructions to tie back long hair.
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