On March 16, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited NSU for 10 serious safety violations for exposing employees to formaldehyde in the anatomy lab in the Terry Administration Building.
The citations include not providing personal protective equipment to workers exposed to formaldehyde, exposing workers to formaldehyde levels beyond the safe exposure limits, not providing a medical surveillance program for workers found to be over the short-term exposure limit, not taking corrective action to reduce worker exposure, not providing eyewash stations in the work area where workers prepared a formaldehyde solution, failing to provide employees who were over the exposure limit with their sampling results and neglecting to take the necessary steps to reduce or eliminate exposure.
The citations were classified as “serious” because there is a high probability that death or serious physical harm could result from the situation, which the employer knew of or should have known about.
The Department of Labor issued a news brief on the incident in which Beatriz Cabrera, acting area director of OSHA in Fort Lauderdale, said, “NSU failed to protect its workers from the hazards of over-exposure to formaldehyde.”
Formaldehyde is known for causing eye and nose irritation, coughing and wheezing. Overexposure to the chemical can cause allergic reactions in the lungs, skin and eyes and has been linked to cancer.
The investigation was launched on Nov. 5, 2014, after the Fort Lauderdale office received a complaint that NSU faculty was exposed to formaldehyde in the anatomy lab in the Terry Building.
Prior to the complaint, NSU made multiple failed attempts to address ventilation issues in the lab. As a result, NSU President George Hanbury approved a re-design of the lab in January that will include new ventilation and new downdraft tables made specifically for autopsy labs. The anatomy lab is under restricted access until the re-design is complete at the end of June.
“The safety of our faculty, staff and students is always my greatest concern,” Hanbury said.
NSU was last inspected on July 25, 2001 and no citations were issued.
OSHA has penalized NSU with a $50,000 fine. NSU has 15 business days from the receipt of the citations to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the citations before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Hanbury said that NSU has requested an informal conference with OSHA to address the issue and he expects to lessen the penalty of the citations. More information will be available after the conference.