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4.7 Working Alone

Whenever possible, laboratory personnel should avoid working alone when conducting research, especially when experiments involve hazardous substances and procedures. Laboratories should establish specific guidelines and standard operating procedures specifying when working alone is not allowed and develop notification procedures when working alone occurs. All work to be performed by someone working alone, and the monitoring system that is established, must be approved in advance by the Principal Investigator or laboratory supervisor. Check with your DSR to see if your department has specific requirements for working alone.

If a laboratory person determines it is necessary to work alone, consideration should be given to notifying someone else in the area – in an adjacent room, another lab on the same floor, or a lab on a different floor. It is recommended that a “buddy system” be established for regular, routine checks on personnel working alone, such as every 15 – 30 minutes, to ensure no accidents have occurred. This could be accomplished by physically walking to the room where the lab worker is or through the use of a phone. If the person working alone is doing highly hazardous work, then the person checking on the lab worker should not enter same room. A system of visual checks should be established to indicate there are no problems or to determine if help is needed.

In the event of an emergency that requires the buddy to leave prior to the completion of an experiment involving highly hazardous chemicals, the buddy should notify Cornell Police at 607-255-1111 of the name, location, and end time of the experiment involved. The buddy should also notify the person conducting the experiment. The person conducting the experiment should make an effort to complete the experiment in a safe manner and notify Cornell Police upon completion of the experiment.

Under no circumstances should the Cornell Police be used in place of a “lab buddy” as this will seriously undermine the safety of all involved.
Please note: For rooms that are locked due to security needs, prior arrangements are required to allow the designated buddy access. However, please be aware that the University does not have a standardized keying system and the EHS Emergency Responders and Cornell Police may not always have immediate access to locked doors - which could result in a delay in response in the event of an emergency. Also understand that if the door to the lab does not have a window, or if the window is covered, then there is a chance that if something happened to a person working alone in a locked lab, then they may not be discovered until someone else from the lab goes into the room (which could be a day or more).

Examples of activities where working alone would be permissible include:

  • Office work such as writing papers, calculations, computer work, and reading.
  • Housekeeping activities such as general cleaning, reorganization of supplies or equipment, etc., as long as no moving of large quantities of chemicals is involved.
  • Assembly or modification of laboratory apparatus when no chemical, electrical, or other physical hazards are present.
  • Routine lab functions which are part of a standard operating procedure which has been demonstrated to be safe and not involve hazardous materials.
  • Examples of activities where working using a “buddy system” should be considered include:

  • Experiments involving toxic or otherwise hazardous chemicals, especially poison inhalation hazards.
  • Experiments involving high-pressure equipment.
  • Experiments involving large quantities of cryogenic materials.
  • Experiments involving work with unstable (explosives) materials.
  • Experiments involving Class 3b or 4 Lasers.
  • Transfer of large quantities of flammable materials, acids, bases, and other hazardous materials.
  • Changing out compressed gas cylinders containing hazardous materials.
It is the responsibility of Principal Investigators and laboratory supervisors to ensure procedures for working alone are developed and followed by personnel working in laboratories under their supervision.