UCL fined £300,000 after student is left partially blinded in experiment gone wrong

University College London has been fined £300,000 after a research student was partially blinded when a scientific experiment went wrong.

The college was prosecuted over an accident suffered by a graduate student carrying out experimental work at the London Centre for Nanotechnology - writes standard.co.uk

In June 2014, she was placing a sample into the centre’s lithium evaporator and tightening the securing bolts when the viewing port shattered.

Fragments of glass from the pressurised chamber were sent flying into her left eye, the Court of Appeal heard. The student required extensive surgery over six months to treat the eye and repair a hole in her retina.

“She has unfortunately been left with partial vision in her left eye,” Lord Justice Holroyde said. She now suffers from blurred and double vision, symptoms of PTSD and facial scarring. The college admitted a health and safety breach at Southwark crown court in July last year, but appealed against the six-figure sum it was ordered to pay.

“This was a serious injury to a woman blamelessly going about her work,” said Lord Justice Holroyde, in a ruling upholding the £300,000 fine. “In our judgment the seriousness of the harm caused merited a sentence higher in range, before reduction for mitigation and guilty plea, [and] the fine imposed was not manifestly excessive.”

The judge said there was no “cost-cutting” involved; staff simply “overlooked the possibility of events occurring as they did”, and the college pleaded guilty and took a “solicitous approach” to the victim’s welfare since the accident.

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However, Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with two other judges, said the severity of the injuries had to be taken into account. Dismissing the appeal, he said the fine had already been reduced to take account of the college’s charitable status.

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