The tragic death of a US undergraduate physics student at Yale this past week brought back memories of another tragic death a couple of years ago at UCLA. In that earlier blog entry, I mentioned that, due to the less stringent training and safety review process at most universities, I'm surprised that such an accident doesn't occur more often. Unfortunately, they are.
I think everyone working in the field, except for theorists, needs to be told that there are aspects of doing science that can be dangerous if one isn't paying careful attention. A simple rubbing of one's eye while doing laser alignment can cause an accidental exposure of one's eye to that laser light. Many things can go wrong, and many times, they do when one isn't properly trained or be made aware of of the hazards. Luckily, most of the accidents are minor, but some time, it takes only one mistake to result in such tragic consequence.
As an experimentalist, my main focus has always been the work. But luckily, even though it can be annoying, the constant hammering of safety issues and the hazards that I face each day while at work do result in my conscious awareness of what I do and how I do it. When you deal with something where a serious mistake can lead to a life-or-death situation, you tend to want all the information you can get before doing the work.
One would hope that with this latest accident, universities will pay even more attention on how graduate students are trained to safely do their work.