Federal investigators fault Yale in Dufault ’11 accident

UPDATED: Wednesday, August 17, at 3:23 p.m. The metal lathe that killed Michele Dufault ’11 in a Sterling Chemical Laboratory machine shop April 13 lacked federally-mandated safeguards, and Yale failed to uphold several safety measures in the machine shop, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation has found.

Because Dufault was not an employee of the University, Yale will not face fines from OSHA, Area Director Robert Kowalski wrote in a letter sent Monday to University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson. The OSHA investigation could not determine specific hazards to employee safety, but investigators still issued seven recommendations for improving machine shop safety at Yale.

Although OSHA determined that the University had erred in several ways, Yale alleged that many of the agency’s findings are based on faulty information.

“Yale has reviewed OSHA’s letter regarding its investigation of the accident, a letter which apparently was shared first by the agency with the media. Unfortunately, OSHA’s assessment contains a number of significant inaccuracies,” University spokesman Tom Conroy said in an email to the News Tuesday evening.

The OSHA letter clarified that the lathe’s rotating “lead screw” was central to the accident. OSHA investigators found no physical guarding, personal protective equipment or emergency stops on the machine that killed Dufault.

According to the agency’s letter, federal law requires a shop operator to provide external safeguards for a lead screw that is completely exposed without protection. But Conroy said the lathe in question met all American National Standards Institute regulations, which incorporate both training and personal protective equipment.

OSHA also found that Yale had erred in several other ways: Site safety inspections and audits of the shop conducted by the University did not address machine safeguarding, and the shop did not post any general rules and regulations — including caution signs — for using the lathe or any of the other equipment in the room.

Kowalski also wrote in his OSHA letter that he recommends that Yale “develop and implement a formal training program (including a course outline, curriculum and training records) that meets the requirements of all ANSI standards.” But Conroy said the implication that Yale undergraduates did not receive proper training is false.

“Machine tool training provided by Yale was extensive, consistently reinforced by professional staff, and confirmed by Yale’s expert to be exemplary,” he said, adding that “students were repeatedly instructed not to use machinery without a buddy present.”

During its investigation, OSHA identified the machine as a Harrison-Claussing lathe manufactured in 1962. According to the letter, the University could not determine when the machine had been purchased, but faculty confirmed the equipment had been at the facility since at least 2000 in interviews with OSHA staff.

After Dufault’s accident, OSHA investigators were not immediately sure if the lab fell under their jurisdiction because Dufault was a student, said OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald. But because University employees also use the machine shop in question, he said, the agency began an investigation. OSHA’s mission is to enforce safety standards for employees in the workplace.

“If there was a possibility there was hazard that might affect employees, then we would want to look into it,” Fitzgerald said in April.

Following the incident, Yale administrators pledged to look into the accident to help establish new procedural guidelines. Conroy told the News in July that the committee Yale established to examine shop safety has “done a great deal of work on all aspects of the shops,” including access and monitoring guidelines, safety equipment and training regulations.

Conroy estimated in July that the internal committee’s final recommendations would be published and officially implemented around the beginning of the school year.

Conroy said on Tuesday that, although they had not yet been released, some of these recommendations had begun to be implemented, including “increased awareness by users of safety rules,” and the presence of monitors in shops at all times when undergraduates are working.

“When something like this happens we want to be entirely confident that we have the right policies and procedures in place to protect our students,” University President Richard Levin said in an interview with the News on the day Dufault died.

Dufault was discovered around 2:30 a.m. on April 13 by two male undergraduates who called 911 and asked for immediate police assistance, according to a police report obtained by the News.

The official cause of Dufault’s death was “asphyxia due to neck compression,” according to Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner investigator Kathy Wilson.

Check back for more updates.

Comments

  • joey00

    I hope they rendered the machine inoperable and junked it

  • LouieLouie

    Once again, Yale’s elitist attitude of being above the law comes back to bite them. Nothing is done as a preventative measure, things only change when they get caught and in this case, it was a real tragedy that was preventable. Staff are treated as second class citizens on a regular basis but this time, it was one of the most gifted and promising students who was affected. It’s a shame that with all the resources and great minds throughout the university that safety and doing the right thing are not top priorities.

  • connman250

    Question???? Who is watching the safety at the universities in Connecticut? OSHA says that even though they investigated the DeFault accident at Yale, they could not fine Yale because they only fine private companies in the country. Is this scary or what???? I said before that Yale is so powerful that they can tell politicians to keep their hands off them. It seems Yale had never actively enforced safety rules in their machine shop. Do state universities and private universities have different rules concerning safey in their shops? Do our state universities even have safety procedures in their shops? This is a question that our state legislators should be looking into.

    I commented about safety at Yale and was bombarded with comments from Yale students who thought that safety rules were insulting to the students. This just shows the arogance of many at Yale.

  • penny_lane

    What the article says: “Because Dufault was not an employee of the University, Yale will not face fines from OSHA.”

    What conman250 understood: “OSHA says that even though they investigated the DeFault accident at Yale, they could not fine Yale because they only fine private companies in the country.”

    Major reading comprehension fail.

  • Y_2011

    @Penny lane,

    Regardless, it’s still pretty f-ed up. There are regulations and agencies for high school safety, and there are regulations and agencies for the workplace, but if college students fall through those cracks, something needs to be fixed.

  • connman250

    Okay, Penny Lane, the reason OSHA got involved in the investigation was because that employees might use that fascility. So, it was treated like a private company, but they cannot fine Yale because a student was using the Lathe. So, I hope you are happy that Yale does not pay a fine, but a student is dead, nevertheless. Major safety procedure fail! So in effect, what I said was correct. OSHA cannot fine Yale because Ms. Defult as not an employee, but a student. Thus, Occupation Safety and Health Administration.

  • penny_lane

    Y_2011, I think it’s a little bit frightening that you’d be so willing to hand the government more control over private universities. I’d much rather take Yale to task for f—ing up than take the government to task for not having an agency to regulate a group of entities that really should be able to regulate themselves.

  • connman250

    penny, we see what happens when a powerfull corporation or university is left to take things into their own hands. Someone in a power position will always try to circumvent the rules if they can get away with it to save a penny. OSHA was formed years ago because too many people were getting killed and injured because someone in authority would not shut down a production line if there was a problem and would risk injury to workers. Would you be in favor of the EPA not looking at air or water polluters? And how exactly are you going to take Yale to task for f—ing things up? They have the power to control local politicians. I worked in a machine shop for forty-four years and seen people die because the company looked the other way when safety was not taken seriously. When OSHA was formed, companies had to take safety more seriously or else face a fine or a shutdown of their facility.

    It’s a shame that Yale threw Ms. Dufault under the bus to save their rear ends, but now they will make changes.

  • River Tam

    Yale’s not throwing anyone under the bus. Michele’s death was a tragic accident, but I don’t know how these commenters can, without seeing the lathe set-up in question, know that this was the fault of the university.

  • Branford73

    River Tam,
    They “know” because it is their view of places and people like Yale, and maybe Yale in particular, as arrogant, power abusing and privileged (in the post-modern use of the word–an arrogant assumption that one’s exalted place in the universe is deserved for unearned reasons). Anything bad that happens in such places or to such people is a direct result of these characteristics and any defense they raise is an attempt to “get away with it” by improperly using their money, power or reputation. It is a tiresome theme but is repeated over and over again.

  • connman250

    Branford73 If what happened at Yale were to happen at any private company, OSHA would have shut their operation down. How Yale gets away with allowing people in their shops with no supervision and long hair down, is pure arrogance. It is very fortunate that no one is able to view what happened to Ms. Dufault. I know what a lathe is and worked with smaller bench lathes and also with 25 ft lathes. The report stated that the lathe in question, was manufactured in 1962 and was of the smaller type and had an exposed lead-screw. The lead-screw usually spins at the same revolutions as the work spindle. If loose clothing, hanging jewelry or long hair get caught in the lead-screw or spinning work, it can be very ugly. Older machines of this type are usually retrofitted with numerous fail-safe devices which are mandated by OSHA, but if an institution such as Yale falls through the cracks and is left to their own, this is the result. You can cry all you want that it was only an accident and hide your heads in the sand, but OSHA found numerous violations, that now, Yale agreed to fix.

  • Branford73

    connman250,

    Your comment about the lathe in question was cogent and informative. I have no trouble believing that Yale’s people responsible for the safety devices, procedures and operating hours of the lab were negligent in this case.

    However, your credibility in my view was diminished by your evident disdain for Yale and similar institutions simply because of exalted status, a status no doubt you believe is unearned undeserved. I have seen this attitude before.

    Here are your comments which pepper your posts just on this string:

    > “I said before that Yale is so
    > powerful that they can tell
    > politicians to keep their hands off
    > them”
    >
    > “…bombarded with comments from Yale
    > students who thought that safety rules
    > were insulting to the students. This
    > just shows the arogance [sic] of many
    > at Yale.”
    >
    > “Someone in a power position will
    > always try to circumvent the rules if
    > they can get away with it”
    >
    > “They [Yale] have the power to control
    > local politicians.”
    >
    > “Yale threw Ms. Dufault under the bus
    > to save their rear ends”
    >
    > “How Yale gets away with allowing
    > people in their shops with no
    > supervision and long hair down, is
    > pure arrogance.”

    I do not worship Yale or its administrators. But I don’t start my judgment of it or them with an assumption they are arrogant, unfeeling, manipulative monsters.

  • connman250

    Many of the comments in here come from idealist who only started driving cars a few years ago. I know that going to Yale is something that most people can only dream about, so studends or faculty protecting Yale from unfavorable comments seems to come natural. In my world, if a parent doesn’t use a safety belt on his kid, he is negligent. I’am I being unfair to Yale after they agreed to do what they should have been doing for years? Why did it take so long and why did someone have to die?