UCLA plans to fight fines from chem lab fire

State regulators have fined UCLA an additional $67,720 for alleged violations stemming from a December 2008 chemistry lab fire that fatally burned a research assistant, but the university announced today it plans to challenge the fines.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health previously fined the university more than $31,000 for violations of workplace safety laws contributing the fire, which injured Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji, 23, who died 18 days after the blaze.

Kevin Reed, UCLA's vice chancellor for legal affairs, said it was unclear if the latest round of citations were the result of Cal/OSHA ignoring steps the university has taken to improve safety since the fire or the result of outside pressure – possibly due to ongoing employee union labor contract negotiations.

"We believe many of Cal/OSHA's citations relate to previous compliance issues and do not reflect current operations and procedures, especially as they pertain to training,'' Reed said. "We intend to vigorously fight these citations.''

UCLA officials said the university cooperated fully with state investigators after the fire, and the university took steps to correct the earlier issues cited by Cal/OSHA and paid the $31,875 in fines.

The university noted that it has enhanced laboratory safety programs, including stepped-up inspection protocols.

"We believe our actions have strongly demonstrated a campuswide commitment to enhancing lab safety programs so that they can serve as a model for all research universities,'' Reed said.

Officials with Cal/OSHA could not be reached for comment.

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