A fire occurred in the laboratory of the Industry-University Research Center in Yonsei University on March 12. Prior to this accident, an explosion took place in the laboratory of the College of Engineering in Korea University. These recent accidents in Yonsei University and Korea University laboratories brought into focus the dangers inside university laboratories.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the number of fires in university laboratories reached as much as 94. From 2009 to 2013 there were 383 explosions and fires on campuses that resulted in deaths of 17 people. The NEMA began an examination of laboratory safety in September of 2013 on 6,096 laboratories of 549 universities. Among those, 35 laboratories were told to rectify safety rules and take safety training.
The problem is that laboratory accidents are still occurring. The ministry’s inspection of laboratories was merely formal and superficial, which were limited to only a few university laboratories. The Research Environment Safety Division is in charge of laws concerning laboratory safety, operation of safety administration plans and supporting specialized organizations for laboratory safety.
“When there is a big accident, an accident that causes death or serious injury of over five research workers in a laboratory, the laboratory must submit an accident investigation within a month,” said Oh Pan-dong, an official who is in charge of laboratory spot inspection. “We send a specialist in related accidents to investigate the reason of the accident and to come up with countermeasures.”
An official of the NEMA suggested that professors who are in charge of the laboratories must create a secure environment inside the laboratories.
“Laboratories should strictly abide by the safety administration plan given by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning to prevent any potential accidents beforehand,” said Kim Soo-hee, an official in the Fire Suppression & Investigation division of NEMA.
Meanwhile, Ewha is seeking ways to have a safer laboratory environment. The Office of General Administrations holds an annual awards ceremony for Outstanding Security Laboratory to motivate students and professors to create safer laboratories.
“The most important step that laboratories must take is to prepare all the research protocols and update old facilities in the laboratory,” professor Oh Goo-taeg (Life Sciences) said. “The researchers in the laboratory must habitually try to keep the laboratory in a safe condition.”