Yale’s administration has released a new set of safety regulations for campus machine shops August 19 in response to the death of Michele Dufault ’11 in a Sterling Chemical Laboratory shop last April.
After Dufault’s body was found on the morning of April 13, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the University’s shop practices and, in an April 15 report, admonished Yale for its loose regulations. Administrators spent the last four months developing a new, stricter set of rules to avoid future accidents, Yale spokesperson Tom Conroy said.
“It was a tragic accident. Safety is something that everyone at Yale, staff, students and faculty, has to work together on to minimize the chance of an accident as much as possible,” Conroy said. “The new policies and practices will contribute to enhancing safety and awareness throughout the university.”
Although the University was not in violation of any laws, machine shop supervisors from other schools around the country who spoke with the News said they took issue with a number of Yale’s policies, including the fact that undergraduates were allowed to use facilities alone.
Among OSHA’s most pressing concerns was the lack of posted safety guidelines on the walls of Yale’s shops. As of August 19, the new regulations have been hung in plain view, and include at least two new rules that Dufault did not have to follow, according to Yale Police Department documents obtained by the News via a Freedom of Information Act request.
These new shop policies mandate that a professional supervise undergraduates using large industrial tools such as the metal lathe Dufault was using at the time of her death.
“Never work alone – and a Supervisor or Monitor must be present at all times for undergraduates,” the first line of the poster reads.
However, the University still does not require that undergraduates with machine shop training be accompanied by an instructor when using less dangerous machines — in these cases, students only need to use the shop with another trained undergraduate. At most other universities, professionals must supervise all undergraduate projects.
Another new regulation prohibits anyone operating a machine from using cell phones, mp3 players, and other personal electronic devices. Loud music is also now forbidden within shops.
According to the police report written by YPD Detective Thomas Mullen, the students who found Dufault’s body heard music playing from an iPod speaker connected to her iPod. Her cell phone was resting on one of the shelves below the lathe.
Provost Peter Salovey’s office is also considering installing cameras in the more dangerous student laboratories.
Though the investigation is complete, some facts about the evening cannot be determined. Though the YPD attempted to deduce the time at which the accident occurred, they only know for certain that Dufault swiped her ID to enter Sterling at 7:06 p.m and synced her iPod and computer at 7:12 p.m. Following this, she missed a Google chat message at 9:40 p.m. and a call to her cell phone at 2:11 a.m. Based on this information, Mullen could only conclude that the accident occurred between 7:12 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. when Dufault’s body was discovered.
In his police report, Mullen also wrote that when he tested the metal lathe that Dufault was using, a “loud banging or clanging noise emanat[ed] from the motor housing.” He added that Director of the Gibbs Laboratory Machine Shop Vincent Bernardo could not explain the sound, but planned to conduct a more thorough inspection later. Bernardo did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the status of this inspection Tuesday night.