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UC Berkeley Lax on Toxic Material Safety, State Says

Times Staff Writer

The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration has demanded a meeting with University of California, Berkeley, officials over what the agency calls the university’s long history of employee safety violations, the agency announced.

A spokesperson for the agency said that in recent years the university has been cited for numerous violations concerning handling of asbestos and other toxic materials on campus and has been repeatedly cited for not implementing adequate employee training programs for handling hazardous materials and equipment.

“The university needs to take effective action to prevent these kinds of violations,” Diane Dienstein, agency public information officer, said Friday, and the meeting is intended to impress campus officials with that. The meeting had been scheduled Friday, but was postponed indefinitely.

While Dienstein refused to describe specific violations, she said the university’s overall employee safety program is “not very effective.”

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‘History of Violations’

“The university has a long history of violations,” Dienstein said. “We had issued citations to the university that may correct the situation, but then we go and inspect another part of the campus and find the same thing.”

Dienstein said the violations may include the exposure of workers to hazardous materials and the failure to label or clean up toxic materials. The workers principally affected are service employees, rather than faculty, laboratory technicians and students. The agency’s investigation on the campus is continuing, she said.

Ray Colvig, UC Berkeley public information officer, said that there have been “isolated instances” in which the university has failed to comply with state safety regulations, but he said that the problems were hard to avoid in a large university.

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Colvig said that most toxic materials on campus are generated by the university’s many laboratories. Asbestos also is widespread on campus, Colvig added, because most of the buildings were constructed before the adoption of current restrictions on use of the carcinogenic substance.

Improvements Made

But, Colvig said, there have been many improvements in employee safety in recent years, including publication of a 45-page booklet outlining safety rules for handling hazardous materials.

Colvig also said that most cleanups of hazardous materials are now done by private firms under contract, rather than by university employees.

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Two university workers recently filed a petition with the state Workers Compensation Appeals Board alleging that they were exposed to toxic materials in cleaning up a chemical spill that occurred when hazardous liquids were dumped into the trash by a graduate student.

The two workers, William Day and William Fields, alleged that they were inadequately trained to dispose of the materials and were given improper equipment.


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