Discussion paper

DP17317 Laboratory Safety and Research Productivity

Are laboratory safety practices a tax on scientific productivity? We examine this question by exploiting the substantial increase in safety regulations at the University of California following the shocking accidental death of a research assistant in 2008. Difference-in-differences analyses show that relative to `dry lab' scientists who use theoretical and computational methods, the publication rates of `wet lab' scientists who conduct experiments on chemical and biological substances did not change significantly after the shock. At the same time, we find that the shock induced the wet laboratories that more frequently used dangerous substances to reduce their reliance on flammable materials and unfamiliar hazardous compounds. Our findings suggest that laboratory safety may shape the production of science, but they do not support the claim that safety practices impose a significant tax on research productivity.


Galasso, A, H Luo and B Zhu (2022), ‘DP17317 Laboratory Safety and Research Productivity‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 17317. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp17317