The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday April 1st

Yale student Michelle Dufault killed in lab accident; universities re-evaluate lab safety policies

A Yale University student died in a chemistry laboratory machine shop Tuesday, leading university laboratories nationwide to examine their safety regulations.

Michele Dufault, a senior physics and astronomy major at Yale, died after her hair got caught in a lathe in the school’s chemistry laboratory, according to an email from the university’s President Richard Levin to the student body. Her body was found by other students in the lab.

A lathe is a rotating power machine used to shape wood and metal.

“It’s very surprising and unfortunate,” said Duane Deardorff, director of undergraduate laboratories for UNC’s Physics department.

He said accidents with lathes or any turning device are hazardous but not usually fatal.

In reading about the incident in the media, Philip Thompson, the instrument shop supervisor for UNC, said he cannot help but wonder if it could have been prevented.

“My first reaction is that it was a tragedy, and she shouldn’t have been alone,” Thompson said.

According to the Yale Daily News, her death was an accident caused by asphyxia, or deficient supply of oxygen to the body.

Thompson said a bystander could have turned off the machine, pulled the student out and resuscitated her.

Deardorff said that the physics department is the only science department at UNC with a machine shop. Only faculty and graduate students who have completed a training course are allowed to use the equipment.

“It makes me feel better about our own policy of not letting undergraduate students work in there,” Deardorff said.

He and Thompson said there has never been a lab fatality at UNC.

Ken Kretchman, director of environment and health safety for N.C. State University, said he would work with the university’s safety committee to ensure there will be no similar tragedy.

“These are always, when they occur, tragic occurrences across the country, not just at the institution,” Kretchman said.

Yale canceled classes and labs Tuesday.

According to Levin’s email, Yale has training programs for students who use the equipment, but they will be re-inspecting lab safety protocol.

The regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration office, a federal regulatory organization, also has a compliance inspector examining the school’s safety policy and practices, according to the office’s spokesperson.

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