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9: Working Alone


Avoid working alone whenever possible.

Student researchers/workers Low risk | Medium risk | High risk

With your supervisor, determine into which category your duties fall and follow the appropriate procedures for that category:

Low Risk

A companion is required if working in NSC or PENGL outside of normal work hours. During normal work hours, no companion is needed for the following activities:

Data entry and analysis
Library research
Maintaining collections1
Microscopic observations
Photography or other forms of documentation
Preparation of reports and presentations
Pressing and labeling plants
Project design
Sample sorting and identification1
Simple care of domestic animals
Working with low hazard chemicals:
  • Health hazard rating of 2 or less excluding embryotoxins, mutagens and corrosives with a pH <4 or >9
  • Flammability of 1 or less
  • Reactivity of 1 or less
1 Media and solutions used must be designated "low hazard"

Medium Risk

A companion is required on the floor (within shouting distance) and some additional precautions (footnoted) might be needed for the following activities:

Boiling water bath or boiling water in a non-breakable container2
Centrifugation with a table-top centrifuge3
Handling domestic animals that might bite or scratch such as rabbits5
Handling sharp instruments (e.g. paraffin sectioning)6
Microbiology incinerator use
Terrestrial or aquatic field work7
Use of fires with very limited fuel supplies such as alcohol lamps8
Using -70o C freezer or walk-in cold-room
Walk-in incubator9
Work with BSL1 organisms such as E.coli K12 strains that are used for protein expression10


2 Transportation of container of boiling water moves this activity to high-risk.
3 Trained in proper use (i.e. balancing) and first-time use observed by faculty member. Use in medium risk setting requires that chemicals used are low-risk. High-risk chemicals move this activity to high risk.
4 Companion must be in the room during manipulations. Checklist must be followed. (Checklist specifies that power-source is turned off, buffer removed, etc.)
5 Perform only during normal work-day hours so that if needed, victim can readily access SJU health center
6 Perform only during normal work-day hours so that if needed, victim can readily access SJU health center
7 Location, duration and time of departure need to be specified. Upon return, the student researcher must call immediate supervisor or faculty supervisor on-call. Must carry field safety kit, and cell phone. Work in a boat requires life jacket and a companion. If a bee or wasp sting allergy is suspected, then special arrangements need to be made.
8 Long hair, loose sleeves are contained. Combustible and flammable materials kept 10 feet away from flame source.
9 Companion needs to be alerted to expected duration of activity and student must check with companion after use.
10. Decontamination procedures must be performed before and after use of organism.

High Risk

These activities can be performed only when a faculty member is on duty, either as immediate supervisor or their designate and is aware of the activity. Student must be trained by the immediate supervisor before solo use. The faculty supervisor or his or her designate is responsible for responding to accidents or injuries.

Work with BSL2 organisms such as Candida albicans or Pseudomonas
High pressure equipment use (e.g. critical point dryer; moving and attaching/detaching compressed gas cylinders)
High speed or ultra high speed centrifugation
High temperature (exceeds 100oC) (e.g. autoclave; muffle furnace, convection drying oven)
High voltage equipment use (e.g. electron microscope)
Intentional handling of wild vertebrate animals and hazardous invertebrates that might bite or transmit serious disease
Using fire or open flame (Bunsen burners) excluding alcohol lamps
Working with hazardous chemicals
Health hazard rating of 3 or 4
Flammability rating of 2 – 4
Reactivity rating of 2 – 4
Dilute solutions of the above are still considered hazardous if
  • Oral rat LD50 divided by the proportion of material in the solution is equal to or less than 500 mg/kg
  • pH < 4 or >9
  • >24% alcohol with a flashpoint less than 60o C
  • Cyanide or sulfide
  • Mutagen or embryotoxin.