James Gibson, UCLA’s director of EH&S and the executive director of the CLS, has been on the road constantly promoting the center as well as UCLA’s overall response to the Sangji incident. Also promoting the center everywhere has been Erike Young, the EH&S director for UC’s Office of the President.This corresponds to a comment by UCLA's vice chancellor for legal affairs, Kevin Reed in December:
Interviewer: In the written statement that was released, I believe it was yesterday, by UCLA media relations and public outreach, one of the biggest points that was made in that is that, since the time of this tragedy, that UCLA has really become a model for safety in laboratories. It created the Center for Laboratory Safety that other universities and research organizations now look to UCLA as a prime example of how to do this right.
But should that really play a role in whether criminal charges are filed against the university or this particular professor, because that's based on what happened 3 years ago, not about the way the institution has responded to it since?
Kevin Reed: But Larry, it absolutely plays a role in justice. It is what this institution has done to learn from this tragedy.
It was the mandate of Chancellor Block after this tragedy that we would be a leader nationally and we, I believe, have become that leader nationally. Our EH&S director is called upon to lecture around the country on the lessons that we learned from this tragedy, our chemical safety plan is borrowed by institutions around this country, we've produced videos that show the safe handling of these kinds of volatile chemicals.Call me a cynic, but if an institution (say, UCLA) wanted to use money to avoid serious criminal penalties, isn't this exactly what they would do? You'd set up a new organization, throw a lot of money at it, get people with impressive-seeming resumes to run it and then you'd go around calling yourself "a national leader." (It's not like the AP's going to put out a ranking that will show that you're not in the top 25, right?) After a year or so of doing this, you'd get a lot of your fellow EH&S folks to write letters in support of UCLA to the Los Angeles County DA and mention, that hey, these folks have really learned their lesson and they're really good at this stuff now (NOTE: entirely my speculation.) It's exactly what I would do if make a big public show that I've learned my lesson.
In some sense, UCLA is in a bind: it seems like it's much easier to show the absence of a bad safety record than it is to show the presence of a good safety record. Substance on UCLA's safety record will only come over a long period of time, with statistical analyses that show that their near-miss rates went down significantly, or that they've passed a 5 year period (for example) without a serious incident. In the short term, they're left with the public relations stuff to show improvement, while
What truly substantive things could the UCLA Center for Laboratory Safety do for the chemical safety community? Writing and corresponding in the chemical safety literature is a place when I think CLS could contribute (and probably seems to be right now.) Releasing a detailed internal analysis of what went wrong during the Sheri Sangji incident would seem to be the most obvious way to show contrition and a desire to improve. (Of course, the lawyers will never allow that anytime soon.)
Ultimately, the most substantive thing that UCLA and its new Center could do would be to ingrain a culture of safety in their students and postdocs to such a degree that upon leaving UCLA and joining a new organization, UCLA alums are immediately seen as safety leaders in their speech (and more importantly) in their actions. Sadly for UCLA, that reputational change can only come slowly.