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OSHA Cites, Fines Laser Lab

Photonics.com
Jan 2009
ROCHESTER, N.Y., Jan. 23, 2009 – The University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for nine alleged serious safety violations and could be fined nearly $60,000 as a result of an Aug. 6 accident that seriously injured a senior lab engineer.

According to OSHA, the employee, Sam Roberts, was servicing a pressurized diagnostic device for the Omega laser known as the light pipe when it exploded (See: Engineer Hurt in Laser Lab  and Serious Injury Closes Lab ).

Roberts, an employee of the lab for almost 10 years, was struck on the head by a bracket that reportedly weighed more than 100 lb. He has had multiple surgeries to reconstruct his face and fuse his spine, and had to have his right eye removed. He is in a rehabilitation facility in New Jersey working to recover his mobility, according to a Web site set up to keep friends and family updated on his progress. He remains paralyzed from the waist down.

The Omega laser, one of LLE’s primary research tools, is ~30 × 300 ft. Its 60 laser beams can focus up to 40,000 J onto a target less than 1 mm in diameter in about one-billionth of a second. It is used to deliver laser energy pulses to targets to measure the resulting nuclear and fluid dynamic events.

OSHA’s inspection found deficiencies with the design, installation and operator training for the light pipe and the compressed gas system, of which it was a part. It cited the lab for failing to safeguard employees against recognized explosion hazards associated with assembly, disassembly, pressurizing, evacuating and monitoring activities for the light pipe and has proposed $56,700 in fines.

“While this machinery is singular, the underlying safety concerns are basic and vital,” Arthur Dube, OSHA’s area director in Buffalo, said in a statement. “Effective steps must be taken and maintained to eliminate any conditions that could contribute to a recurrence of this unfortunate and grave accident. One element of this could be an effective safety and health management system through which employees and management work together to evaluate, identify and eliminate workplace hazards.”

The nine serious citations the laser lab received were for: failing to keep the light pipe gas tight or to provide it with a pressure relief device to prevent an instantaneous uncontrolled gas leak; failing to have the compressed gas system designed by a competent person; an improper gas pressure regulating device; housing the compressed gas cylinder in a place where it was exposed to damage; improper installation of the platform plate from which the light pipe was attached; having unqualified people work on the compressed gas system; lack of eye, face and hand protection; and not evaluating the work area for hazards.

OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known. The laboratory has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and fines to meet with OSHA or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The lab closed for three weeks after the accident to conduct what the university said was a “rigorous” safety review of the most serious injury to an employee in the 38-year history of the laboratory (See: Lab to Reopen After Injury).

The lab’s approximately 300 employees spent more than 35,000 staff hours inspecting equipment and reviewing safety procedures during the closure, the university said.

“We have been working closely with federal and university officials these past months to learn everything possible about why this accident occurred. And we have enhanced our policies and procedures to minimize the risk of a similar accident occurring again,” LLE Director Robert McCrory said in a statement issued in response to OSHA’s citations. He said the safety issues raised by OSHA are being “effectively addressed” by the university.

For more information, visit: www.osha.gov.


GLOSSARY
light pipe
Transparent matter that usually is drawn into a cylindrical, pyramidical or conical shape through which light is channeled from one end to the other by total internal reflections. Optical fibers are examples of light pipes.
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