News Release USDL 98-175
Monday, April 27, 1998
Contact: Frank Kane (202) 219-8151
Al Belsky (202) 219-7334
DEATH OF TECHNICIAN AT GEORGIA RESEARCH
CENTER PROMPTS OSHA CITATIONS AND FINES
The tragic death of a technician at the
Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center
whose eye was splashed with a monkey's body
fluid prompted citations and proposed penalties
of $105,300 by the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) today.
Elizabeth Griffin, 22, was working in Yerkes'
field station at Lawrenceville, Ga. She
contracted what proved to be a fatal Herpes
B virus infection from the monkey's body fluid.
Later, another employee at the primate center's
main station on the Emory University campus in
Atlanta was hospitalized following a similar
incident and six others received splashes to
their faces that could have resulted in similar
infections. Monkeys also have scratched employees
on the face.
"This tragic situation reminds us once again
how important basic safeguards are in protecting
the health and safety of workers," said Secretary
of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "A face shield or
protective goggles could have saved a woman's
OSHA cited Yerkes for one alleged willful safety
and health violation with a proposed penalty of
$63,000, six alleged serious violations with
proposed penalties totaling $38,800, and three
alleged other-than-serious violations with
proposed penalties totaling $4,500.
The willful violation was for not providing
employees with appropriate eye and face protection
against the monkey body fluid splashes or monkey
"Yerkes should have been aware of the dangers,
because of reports by the Centers for Disease
Control," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for
Occupational Safety and Health Charles N. Jeffress.
"Yet it failed to adopt the clear and simple
recommendations for protecting its workers."
The fatal incident occurred Oct. 29, 1997, as
Griffin was conducting an examination of macaque
monkeys in the research center's Lawrenceville
field station. While transferring a monkey from
a transfer box into a cage, liquids, believed to
be urine and diarrhea from the animal, were splashed
into her right eye. She was not wearing eye protection.
She immediately wiped her eye with a wet paper towel
and about 45 minutes later flushed it with water. No
report was made of the incident. She contracted the
B virus as a result of the incident and died Dec.
OSHA began an investigation following the death.
The agency's investigation was expanded when a
similar exposure on Dec. 12, 1997, resulted in a
second employee at the main station on the Emory
campus being hospitalized for two days.
Published reports say Herpesvirus simiae, or B
virus, is a member of the herpes group of viruses
that are highly prevalent in Asiatic monkeys of
the genus Macaca (macaques). The virus is found
in the blood, secretions, and tissues of these
monkeys and can cause life-threatening central
nervous system infections in humans.
The alleged serious violations, each of which
carry a proposed penalty of $6,300, all relate
to Yerkes' failure to protect employees from
infectious diseases such as the one caused by
They allege that Yerkes failed to:
Train employees regarding the dangers
of exposures to a monkey's body fluids and
the fact that the B virus could be contracted
through the eyes and other mucous membranes;
Train employees too on the proper use, care
and limitations of protective equipment;
Assess the workplace to identify all
hazards requiring employees to wear personal
protective equipment to prevent the transmission
of diseases such as those caused by the herpes
Provide the use of appropriate hand protection
to protect employees from monkey bites, cuts,
scratches and punctures;
Maintain the monkey cages to prevent protruding
sharp edges and parts from potentially exposing
employees to the possibility of disease transmission
through cuts, abrasions and puncture wounds from
contact with cage surfaces that may be contaminated
with monkey secretions;
Provide recommended follow-up procedures and
medical care for employees splashed in the eyes
or faces with body fluids of monkeys.
The other-than-serious violations address
Yerkes' failure to provide OSHA prompt access
to employees' medical records.
Willful violations are those committed with
an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference
to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety
and Health Act and regulations.
A serious violation is defined as one in which
there is a substantial probability that death
or serious physical harm could result, and the
employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
An other-than-serious violation is a hazardous
condition that would probably not cause death or
serious physical harm, but would have a direct
and immediate relationship to the safety and/or
health of employees.
Yerkes has 15 working days to contest the
citations and proposed penalties before the
independent Occupational Safety and Health