Last Revised: August 08, 2023

Reviewed: 11/09/2021 (K. Brown)

A person is considered as working alone if they are working by themselves in such a way that assistance is not readily available should injury, illness, or emergency occur. This can occur during normal working hours as well as in the evening, at night, or during weekends. Working alone outside of typical business hours (M-F 8:00 am-5:00 pm) is especially problematic due to the increased likelihood of no one being available to assist if an unexpected event was to occur. These guidelines apply to all work with hazardous materials or hazardous equipment in laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Minors include anyone under the age of 18. Minors must have a Principal Investigator or Sponsor who agrees to supervise and be responsible for the minor while the student is present in the laboratory. The minor must be appropriately supervised at all times when in the laboratory and are not permitted to conduct certain high hazard activities. See "Policy on Undergraduate Students, High School Students, and Other Non-affiliates Participating in Research in Penn Research Facilities." Minors shall not work in labs alone.

Undergraduate Students 

All undergraduates must be under supervision of a senior researcher or instructor when working with hazardous materials in a laboratory. Undergraduate Students shall not work in labs alone.

Laboratory Researchers (Graduate Students, Postdocs, Lab Staff, Principal Investigators)

Although not recommended, laboratory researchers may need to work alone in laboratories and should follow these guidelines to do so safely.

Prohibited Materials and Equipment When Working Alone            

In general, researchers shall not work alone in a laboratory with hazardous materials of any quantity, including:

  • Explosive/Highly Reactive Compounds
  • Acutely Toxic Chemicals and Gases
  • Large Volumes of Concentrated Corrosive Chemicals
  • Pyrophoric Chemicals
  • High pressure equipment
  • Shop equipment

General Guidelines on Working Alone

All laboratory researchers who may work alone in a laboratory should follow these general guidelines:

  • Notify others. Let your PI, manager, or supervisor know when you will be working alone and what you will be doing. Participate in the risk assessment of this activity with your PI prior to working alone, as necessary.
  • Implement a buddy system. Check in with someone regularly while working alone in the lab, including at the start of your work session and when you leave.
  • Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Wearing ear buds or headphones should be avoided as it reduces situational awareness.
  • Wear required PPE in the laboratory, even after hours. This includes long pants, enclosed shoes, lab coat, and safety glasses.
  • Know the location of and access to emergency equipment (e.g. safety shower, eye wash, and fire alarm). Program the numbers for Penn Police (215-573-3333) and EHRS (215-898-4453) into your cell phone.
  • Avoid walking alone. Remember that Public Safety offers a 24/7 Walking Escort Service to accompany you from one campus location to another, to your parked vehicle, to a Penn Transit Stop, or to an on-campus SEPTA regional transit stop. Call 215-898-WALK (9255) or 511 (from campus phone).
  • Download the free Penn Guardian app which allows users to rapidly provide information, such as medical conditions and GPS coordinates, to the Division of Public Safety during an emergency. 
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