I accidentally caused a fire in my department laboratory. The fire was not big, and luckily no one was injured. However, it triggered the fire alarm and sprinkler system, which led to some of the common equipment being damaged.

After the incident, the department has enforced tighter control on lab safety. For example, all students need to submit a work flow before doing new experiments and complete numerous forms to buy new chemicals. It results in a lot of unnecessary administrative work and greatly slows down our research progress. Many research students are unhappy about that, and since I caused the accident, they have begun to ostracize me. Even some 'closer' students seem becoming less friendly to me.

I know it is totally my fault, but sadly, I already caused the accident and can do nothing to change the fact. Now the problem is, what should I do to mend my relationships with my colleagues?

EDIT: As some of the comments mentioned that it is not clear whether the additional rules actually should be enforced no matter there was the accident or not. Honestly, I don't know, but it is the extra work that annoy other students, and it is totally because of me. I guess my department should have complied to the laws before, otherwise they will be in trouble...

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    This is a reasonable question about interpersonal relationships (although I doubt there's much you can do beyond apologizing and demonstrating over time that the "stupid reasons" that caused the fire won't occur again). I don't think it's on topic here, though: this sort of situation is no more likely to occur in academia than elsewhere, there are no special academic customs or traditions related to it, and the fact that it's taking place in academia plays no real role. Nov 30, 2014 at 4:55
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    Every laboratory of a country should comply with a number of safety rules which are required by law. It is not clear from your question if the control that has been set after the accident is just the enforcement of safety rules which should be followed anyway, but were neglected before the event, or if it is stricter control that goes beyond the safety rules of your country. Nov 30, 2014 at 8:18
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    I agree with @MassimoOrtolano. You could be very well describing the requirements of risk assessments and permits required here. Also, a sprinkler in a lab sounds like a not so good idea, but I have never actively looked at what they have.
    – Davidmh
    Nov 30, 2014 at 16:57
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    @AnonymousMathematician I understand this sort of situation can happen outside academia, but the question is about research student's relationship. Just wonder if there is any thing that can be done under this situation in academia.
    – bingung
    Dec 1, 2014 at 22:17
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    We shouldn't close this as off-topic. It is very specific to academia since it deals with students and not employers. Why in the world does anybody think it could be asked on Workplace.SE? It would be closed there as off-topic in no time.
    – yo'
    Dec 1, 2014 at 22:53

1 Answer 1


It results in a lot of unnecessary administrative work and greatly slows down our research progress.

If you do something, intentional or unintentional, that causes more work for others, you are going to be resented. In my opinion, the best way to minimize the resentment is if you are seen as being proactive in taking on your share of the new work. I would suggest you step up and take on a significant portion of any new group work related to the fire. If labs need to be move/rearranged to comply with fire safety standards, it would be best if you came in on the weekends/nights to help people. If the department needs a fire safety officer or first aiders, it would be in your best interest to volunteer. If a new committee has been formed to deal with fire safety compliance, ask to be on it.

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    Beyond that: Respect all safety practices, let it be seen that you're doing so, and give folks time to conclude that the accident really was an accident, that you've learned from it, and that you're less likely than any of them to be the cause of the next disaster. (And there will eventually be a next disaster.) It's going to take time to live this down, but it will become less significant over time as long as you don't do anything to remind folks of it.
    – keshlam
    Dec 3, 2014 at 2:27

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