Safety rules lag behind the reality of biotech labs, says the New York Times. The current Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules were written with handling chemical materials in mind, not genetic, infectious, or even synthetic biological materials. The Times cites three recent cases of people in the lab falling ill due to their work: a Department of Agriculture scientist lapsed into a coma after being infected by the E. coli under study in her lab, a researcher in New Zealand working on meningococcal bacteria became infected with it and lost her legs and an arm, and a University of Chicago scientist became infected by and died of the plague strain he was studying. OSHA has indicated that it may issue new regulations. The Times says that, earlier this month, the agency issued a requested for information "on occupational risks from infectious agents, and for suggestions on how best to reduce them." OSHA director David Michael says, "Worker safety cannot be sacrificed on the altar of innovation." However, academic labs do not fall under the auspices of OSHA. Rather, they follow safety practices established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Some companies also follow those guidelines while others rely on OSHA.
May 28, 2010