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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 life."
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 scratches.
"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. 10, 1997.
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 the virus.
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 B virus;
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 Review Commission.
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