A federal agency investigating the death of a laboratory worker who had been researching a rare type of bacteria has faulted his employer, the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, for unsafe working conditions.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has accused the VA center of three "serious" violations in the April 2012 death of 25-year-old Richard Din of San Francisco.
Din died less than a day after falling ill from a fast-moving bloodstream infection involving Neisseria meningitidis, a pathogen that can cause meningitis and septicemia.
He had been working on developing a vaccine for the deadly bacterial strain. A few hours after he left work on a Friday night, he became ill with a headache, fever and chills. The next day, when his symptoms grew worse and a rash spread over his body, his friends rushed him to the hospital, but he had no pulse upon arrival, and he died later that morning.
The federal agency faulted the VA center for not requiring its employees to use a biological safety cabinet when working with a live bacteria culture. Employees had been working with the bacteria outside of the cabinet, the agency said.
It also said the center failed to provide training on symptoms of illnesses such as meningitis and failed to provide vaccines to protect workers who may be exposed to deadly bacteria.
"Richard Din died because the VA failed to supervise and protect these workers adequately," said Ken Atha, OSHA's regional administrator in San Francisco, in a written statement.
VA leaders said in a statement that they were devastated by the death and took several actions last year, including immediately closing the laboratory and allowing no more work with live bacteria, extending requirements for use of safety cabinets, and training employees about the symptoms of meningitis bacteria.
Sandy Kleffman covers health. Contact her at 510-293-2478. Follow her at Twitter.com/skleffman.