Settlement between UH, state leads to reduced penalties, fines for lab explosion

Photo: Honolulu Fire Department
Photo: Honolulu Fire Department

The University of Hawaii has reached an agreement with the state following a laboratory explosion in Manoa that caused a researcher to lose her arm.

Last month, the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH) announced that the university faced fines of $115,500 for the March 16 incident.

It issued one citation and 15 penalties, with the maximum fined for each penalty.

HIOSH spokesman Bill Kunstman said it was because each of the violations could have led to serious injury or death.

The two parties reached an agreement, the university confirmed Friday, that lowers those numbers.

The penalties in the citation were reduced from 15 to nine, and the total fine was reduced from $115,500 to $69,300, or about 40 percent.

View the settlement agreement in its entirety here.

“The university believes that the settlement is an acknowledgement by HIOSH that UH takes this matter very seriously,” UH said in a statement. “The university is working diligently to address the remaining violations, further strengthen the culture of safety and foster an environment where hazard recognition and risk assessment are the standard of care for all activities.”

UH outlined the following steps currently being taken:

  • The Chemical and Physical Hazards Committee (CPHC) was established by the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research to promote a greater awareness and commitment to health and safety in research and teaching laboratories. The committee is working with the UH Environmental Health and Safety Office (EHSO) staff and other independent sources, (including the UC Center for Laboratory Safety, Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, American Institute for Chemical Engineers, UCLA Hazard Assessment Tool, Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) to identify and implement protocols and processes to strengthen the safety program.  Initial steps that the committee will be taking are to request that each Principal Investigator submit a chemical inventory and complete a physical hazards survey.
  • EHSO and CPHC members will be reviewing online risk and hazard assessment identification tools that provide a means of assessing and tracking hazards in the laboratories.
  • EHSO is reporting a significant increase in information requests as faculty, staff and students are heeding the call to reaffirm their commitment to a culture of safety after the accident.
  • EHSO is continuing with its annual inspections and is also evaluating how inspections can best be conducted to determine that principal investigators are following best practices to ensure the health and safety of all laboratory personnel.
  • The committee is made up of representatives from all of the schools and colleges that have research and teaching laboratories and is working with other safety-related committees already in existence to identify and implement protocols and processes to further strengthen safety.

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