A few days after Christmas of 2008, a young technician in a biochemistry laboratory at the University of California-Los Angeles began to transfer a tablespoon of t-butyl lithium from one container to another. T-butyl lithium is pyrophoric, meaning it ignites on contact with air, but Sheri Sangji wasn't wearing a protective lab coat—instead, she had on a flammable synthetic sweatshirt. Somehow the stuff spilled onto her clothing, and she was engulfed in flames. Sangji died from her burns 18 days later, and UCLA officials bemoaned the "tragic accident" that killed her.cited the university for multiple "serious"—i.e., potentially life-threatening—violations, including its inability to show that Sangji had been trained to handle the dangerous substance and the lack of proper protective attire. UCLA's own safety officials had already faulted the lab on the latter issue back in October, but the problem went uncorrected.The laws are to protect the little guy, right? Oh, wait:
Why the difference between industry and academe? For one thing, the occupational safety and health laws that protect workers in hazardous jobs apply only to employees, not to undergraduates, graduate students, or research fellows who receive stipends from outside funders.Of course, I'm sure that there's a terribly sophisticated argument proving that it's different when the State exploits its workers than when private industry does it. I'm probably not smart enough to grasp the nuance. Or something.