Working Alone II-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Working Alone II

In the May issue of this newsletter, there was information about a fatal accident in a laboratory machine shop at Yale University.  Given that the student was working alone at the time, universities across the country are re-visiting their working alone policies, when the work involves hazardous materials or hazardous processes.   As you should know, there is a process applicable to our labs where the PI can approve certain people or certain activities where one can work alone.   Additionally, many departments and groups already have policies forbidding working alone in certain circumstances, and for certain groups (such as undergraduate students).  Carnegie Mellon is beginning a process to establish a university policy to address working alone with hazardous activities.

Until that policy is created, I am asking you to review your own practices about working alone.  Consider the hazards and risks of your activities and what would happen in the event of an accident to a lab worker when there is no other person around to help or seek assistance.  What about a chemical spill onto a person?  Or a malfunction of a piece of equipment or of a glove or goggles?  What about a serious glassware cut?  Or a ruptured gas cylinder?  Maybe an exploding bottle of waste?  These events are not unheard-of. 

Requiring the presence of at least two people, and preferable a supervisor, where hazardous processes occur is something your lab can do right now.  And the gain in safety will be enormous.

By: Mark Banister,, 412-268-1493