Working Alone

With the advent of COVID-19 and the personnel density requirements imposed by the university, more researchers are working alone in the lab. For some work, this is perfectly fine, but for work with a higher level of risk, someone should know you are working in the lab and monitor you in case of trouble.

Depending on the risk level, this may be as simple as sending messages over Microsoft Teams to your labmates when you enter and leave the lab. Other times, it may be necessary for someone to monitor you from the door of the lab as you conduct riskier work. Consult with your principal investigator to determine the risk level of your work and any need for monitoring. As a last resort, Security (410-516-7777) can occasionally check on you if you inform them of the need; don’t forget to tell them when you leave!

Never conduct risky lab work alone; tragic incidents can result. In 2011, at Yale University, physics undergraduate Michele Dufault, a few weeks away from graduation, was working alone in a campus machine shop late at night, when her hair became caught in a lathe (a rotating machine tool). Her body was discovered in the morning, triggering a great deal of soul-searching at Yale (and here) about appropriate precautions for lone work.

If you have questions about working alone in the lab, shops, or makerspaces, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at [email protected]. See Dr. Kuespert’s website,, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.