Working Alone or Independently Laboratory Policy

Working Alone & Unattended Operations

Students should avoid working alone, especially after hours, it can be unsafe and should be avoided whenever possible. When it may not be avoided, procedures to protect a student (s) in a lab in the event of an emergency must be used. The Principal Investigator & EHS have the responsibility to ensure the safety of a student (s) in a laboratory, whether on the instructional or research side. This is accomplished by conducting a hazard review with both the Principal Investigator and EHS. Once the hazard review is conducted and completed only then may a student (s) work alone or independently.

Guidance is provided below for research lab students working alone.


Alone – Working alone is when an individual cannot be seen or heard by another individual. Working alone includes all individuals who may go for a period of time where they do not have direct contact with a lab technician, instructor, lab mate, lab manager, or P.I. (Primarily for Research)

Independently – Working independently is the ability to work self-sufficiently on assigned tasks. You might receive direction on projects from a lab technician, instructor, lab manager, or P.I. but they may then trust an individual (s) in a lab to accomplish tasks with little to no supervision. However, those individuals previously mentioned are within proximity. (Primarily for Instructional)

Hours of Operations

Regular hours of operation: Monday – Friday 630 AM to 5:15 PM; Saturday 630 AM- 5:15PM

Non-operational hours: Monday – Friday 5:15PM to 6:30 AM; Sunday; Holidays

Which Tasks Require PI & EHS Approval

Some tasks require P.I. and EHS approval before performing alone or independently, including:

  • Work with specific hazardous materials, such as, but not limited to:
    • Cryogens (e.g., liquid nitrogen, liquid helium)
    • Pyrophoric & explosive materials
    • Highly reactive materials (e.g., strong oxidizers, acids, bases)
    • Hydrofluoric acid
  • Transferring large quantities of hazardous materials (i.e., >10L)
  • Procedures that may create hazardous conditions (e.g., oxygen deficiency) or adverse outcomes if not well-controlled (e.g., exothermic polymerization)
  • Work around high voltage
  • Specific laboratory equipment
  • Specific laboratory instrumentation

If your student (s) performs an essential lab function that require one of these tasks, consult with EHS to implement appropriate controls, such as a buddy system.

Hazard Review
  • The P.I. and EHS will be conducting Hazard Review by looking at critical task and considering what can go wrong and how adverse impacts can be eliminated or reduced.
  • High hazard of chemicals, operation of equipment, and /or biological agent will not be permitted to work alone or independently AT ALL.
  • Requirement of administrative controls, engineering controls, and PPE.
  1. Elimination of the use hazardous materials if possible
  2. Substation of hazardous materials with a lower degree of hazard
  3. Performing all work with appropriate engineering control (s)
  4. Implementing a buddy system
  5. Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
    1. While working alone, select PPE more conservatively than you would in ordinary circumstances.
    2. Example, under ordinary circumstances relatively few tasks require a face shield, however, when working alone you may decide to wear a face shield at any time there is splash potential.
Guidance for Student (s) Working Alone in a Lab

Working in a Lab

Working with hazardous materials and equipment always poses risks to a student (s) health and safety. Nonetheless, these risks are heightened when working alone or independently because help is not readily available in case of a mishap.

To reduce the risks of working alone:

  • DO NOT perform tasks that are not appropriate for working alone.
  • Reduce the amount (s) of hazardous material (s) used.
  • Know the location of, and maintain clear access to, emergency equipment (e.g., safety shower, eyewash, fire extinguisher, fire alarm).
  • Check alarm systems, if possible, frequently & immediately take action upon alarm activation.
  • Implement a buddy system.

Buddy System

A buddy system can reduce the risk of certain tasks by ensuring another person is capable of seeking help if another is injured or incapacitated in the course of their work. There are several methods to implement a buddy system, even while working alone or social distancing.

  • In-person buddy: Higher-risk tasks, such as handling of cryogenic liquids (e.g., liquid nitrogen) should have another person within earshot.
  • Semi-in-person buddy: If there are other researchers in your building conducting tasks, you may coordinate to serve as one another’s buddy. Check in to one another’s lab room regularly (e.g.,20-30 minutes).
  • Live remote buddy: By using video conferencing tools or a phone call, a lab student can have a buddy who is aware of their status live but is not present in-person.
  • Asynchronous remote buddy: Lower risk tasks, such as splitting non-hazardous cells, are amenable. In this system, the lab student tells their lab mate, lab manager, or P.I. where they are working, when he/she will be checking in, and what to if he/she do not check in at the appointed time
  • Prior to designating a remote (live or asynchronous) buddy, mention to them
    • where you are working (building and room #).
    • when you are working
    • when you will check in
    • and what to do if you do not check in on time

If you DO NOT check in, you may instruct whoever is overseeing you to call the CSUDH university police to do a wellness check.

How to Work Safely Alone

Follow these best practices for common critical tasks for essential lab functions:

Maintain critical cell phone lines

  • Conduct all work as written in the Standard Operating Procedures, Laboratory Safety Manual, Biosafety Manual, Chemical Hygiene Plan and/or the Exposure Control Plan.
  • Use the engineering controls that are required.
  • Wear your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • DO NOT operate any piece of equipment you have not been trained on.
  • Avoid the use of sharps where feasible

Hazard Evaluation Form [PDF]

*Please attached any documentation like SOPs, Step-by-Step instructions, Manuals when you email the form. 

Emergency Contact List [DOCX]