Yerkes stunned by late April
OSHA citation and fine
Yerkes vigorously denies all claims made by the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) in a citation letter issued last week. The
letter indicated the agency intends to fine Yerkes $105,300 after concluding
its 19-week investigation stemming from the December death of researcher
"Yerkes immediately disputed these claims and is astonished by the
agency's citations," said Kate Egan, the center's chief of public affairs.
Yerkes administrators plan to vigorously dispute the claims. OSHA gave the
center 15 working days to respond, "but it took Yerkes only 15 minutes
to fax a letter back to OSHA contesting all claims and announcing the University's
intention to fight the charges as necessary," Egan said.
National news coverage surrounded Griffin's death from herpes B, which
occured six weeks after what she considered to be a minor eye exposure while
working with rhesus monkeys at the Lawrenceville Field Station. "We
are surprised [OSHA has] chosen to ignore the facts. And we are dismayed
that the investigation appears to have been shaped by media coverage,"
Tom Gordon, Yerkes' associate director of scientific programs, told The
Atlanta Journal/ Constitution.
Yerkes states that it has always been in compliance with applicable safety
guidelines. Nevertheless, after Griffin's exposure, the primate center immediately
required employees to use protective eyewear in all animal areas at all
times, even in situations in which the risk of herpes B exposure was remote,
Yerkes Director Tom Insel and Gordon met with employees as soon as they
received the letter to review the citiations and answer questions. The citation
and Yerkes' response are both posted at the center. "This whole issue
is complex," Gordon said. "There is nothing clean and simple about
this. Individuals are exposed despite the best efforts of everyone involved."
Indeed, after Griffin's death, one Yerkes worker received splashes to the
eye that seeped in through the edges of her goggles.
Yerkes and Emory administrators remain firm in their assertion that Yerkes
not only conformed to all the current standards of safety and protection
at the time of the incident, but had been an active participant in creating
The guidelines adopted by the rest of the industry-primate centers, pharmaceutical
companies, zoos, primate sanctuaries-were drafted at workshops convened
by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and held in collaboration
with Emory/Yerkes faculty. These guidelines, which established the recommended
safety practices and personal protective equipment worn by employees, reflected
the state of scientific knowledge at the time.
"OSHA's failure to recognize this and to ignore the voluminous evidence
presented resulted in citations unwarranted by the facts, the scientific
knowledge or safety standards followed by other primate facilities,"
Yerkes said in a statement.
"This tragic incident could have occurred at any primate facility,"
said Peter Gerone, director of the Tulane Primate Center and dean of the
primate center directors. "We all used similar procedures and, with
respect to eye protection, all have modified practices in the aftermath
of the death at Yerkes."
Gordon likened risk of monkey bites and scratches to other risks health
care workers face in doing their jobs. "Whenever you work around animals
or people with infectious tissues or biological fluids, you take risks,"
he said in the same AJC article. "The job of institutions is to minimize
the risk. But you can never get down to zero. That's as silly as saying
a health care worker should never get a needle stick. It might be good in
theory, but in practice that just can't be the case."
At the time of Griffin's infection there had been fewer than 40 human
cases of herpes B, and in Yerkes' 68-year history, none of its employees
had ever contracted the virus or even suffered serious injury from any of
its primates. "The infection of the employee at Yerkes was the first
documented case of infection via [eye] exposure, and consequently changed
our knowledge of the virus and routes of exposure," said David Davenport,
a leading clinical expert in the treatment of herpes B.
To underscore their commitment to workplace safety, Yerkes has accelerated
its ongoing development of a herpes B-free monkey colony. This costly and
labor-intensive project was started in 1991 to further reduce risk to workers.
It's expected to take at least a decade, but funds have been committed to
speed the timetable as much as possible.
The center also plans to make development of a herpes B vaccine for monkeys
a priority in the new vaccine program, Egan said.
to May 4, 1998 Contents Page