my coworker is working alone overnight despite explicit instructions not to

A reader writes:

I work in a small research lab (less than 10 people total, including our CEO) as a scientist. I’m in charge of OSHA compliance and ensuring that we’re following local and federal safety standards. We work with hazardous materials, including biohazardous materials, compressed gasses, and chemicals.

One of my coworkers, who I have no authority over, has been staying at work overnight, working a total of up to 36 hours at a time. He sometimes takes naps in between, but not always. He doesn’t record this time in order to avoid getting in trouble with our boss. He has been told multiple times that he isn’t allowed to do this, so he he tries to keep it a secret. However, sometimes he tells me in a cheeky way, even though he knows I don’t approve.

He started doing this during a crunch period when we were trying to collect a large amount of data in a short period of time, so he was staying to run experiments. When we pointed out that the risk of screwing up is higher when you don’t sleep, he got extremely defensive and would say that unless we found fault with his data, there was no problem. I figured the behavior would stop once we were done with the project, but he has continued to do it. I broached the topic once since then and he got angry, claiming that people are trying to micromanage him. So I don’t know why he’s still doing it, or even what he’s doing.

He is otherwise a really good coworker and I like working with him a lot, so I don’t want to get him fired.

I can’t find any specific laws that say he isn’t allowed to be at work overnight, so maybe it’s fine? I guess my questions are:

1) Do I have a legal responsibility here? What about a moral one?

2) Should I just keep the secret and pretend not to know? Am I an asshole if I tell our boss, potentially getting him fired?

3) Am I overreacting by thinking it’s dangerous for someone to be in a lab alone at night?

I can’t speak to hazardous materials laws at all, but what you’ve described sure sounds like a safety risk and a legal liability to me. You’d have standing to speak up about that regardless, but you have even more standing to speak up because you’re charged with ensuring lab safety. Given the safety implications, I’d say yes, you do have a moral obligation to say something.

If something happens while your coworker is there alone overnight and it comes out that you — the person in charge of safety — knew and didn’t say anything … that’s not good.

And no, you wouldn’t be an asshole for telling your boss. If it were something more minor, I’d suggest first giving your coworker a warning that you weren’t willing to keep his secret anymore: “Dude, you know you can’t sleep here and it’s a safety issue. If you keep doing it, I’m obligated to tell (boss). Please don’t put me in that position.” But with this level of seriousness and because your coworker has already shown he’s willing to hide what he’s doing (and might just deliberately hide it from you if you warn him) and because he’s gotten angry when you’ve raised it before, just talk to your boss. Your coworker probably isn’t going to get fired over this (unless your boss told him the last time that he’d be fired if he didn’t stop, in which case that’s on your coworker anyway) but your boss needs to know.

{ 358 comments… read them below }

  1. Optimus*

    When I had a coworker doing this at a previous job, I told my manager that she should investigate/keep an eye on this because I suspected it was happening. I didn’t want the responsibility of documenting things. If a manager is a good manager, once you let them know you suspect X is happening, they will do what they need to do to keep a closer eye on the evidence – whether it’s comings and goings, computer/equipment use being logged in “off” hours, etc. – and they will get their own evidence and act accordingly.

    1. Optimus*

      To clarify, I am a big fan of documentation overall, and in situations that involve or impact me I will 100% keep detailed documentation and share it if/when necessary. In this case, the coworker’s fondness for working alone in the building in the middle of the night after he had been previously told not to do that and to please only work first-shift hours ticked me off and made me uneasy since things did go missing from our offices. But it didn’t directly involve me so I didn’t want to become the That Guy Police. I just tipped off our manager and she started watching more closely, finding evidence of files being modified at all hours, etc.

      1. Janeric*

        This is great advice and I’m going to add the phrase “That Guy Police” to my internal lexicon.

      2. WeirdChemist*

        I also worked in a lab where someone was working alone at night (although in his case it was specifically so he could break safety rules without getting in trouble for it because they were “stupid” and we were “annoying” for enforcing them… yay double safety violations!)

        I did have to be That Guy Police and it was not a fun place to be!

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          I saw a button the other day – Forget lab safety, I want superpowers!

          Problem is, you never get superpowers.

          1. mgguy*

            An ex-girlfriend from many years ago gave me a cup that she’d painted with someone bearing a striking resemblance to me(wearing a lab coat) saying the exact same thing.

            I like the cup enough that I’ve held on to it, although needless to say it stays at work both for the comedic value and for the fact that I don’t think Mrs. Mgguy, although she’s seen it, would appreciate seeing a cup every day that says “love” someone not Mrs. Mgguy on the bottom :)

            Still, though, I don’t use the cup. It mostly sits on the shelf with the freebie American Chemical Society element cups and some assorted ones that students have given me, although the ones in the last category get used some for visitors or for the occasional afternoon hot tea(Earl Grey doesn’t taste great out of my well seasoned coffee cup, nor do I want my coffee tasting like oranges the next morning :)).

      3. The Other Fish*

        This is the way.

        It is important to speak up, but you don’t have to lay it all out.
        Because the OP is responsible for HS&E compliance they have to speak up… but they don’t have to manage the situation (that’s for management).
        OP could say something to the manager about this person in a general way…
        Or do a spot audit of HS&E and “find’ evidence that the person is there on odd hours (“Just checking the security logs match expectations and we found anomalies in that secure areas are being accessed overnight, by these swipe cards”)…
        Or say in a team meeting “I don’t think we have time get this done in our hours, I know some of us have been pulling a lot of extra hours lately and this isn’t sustainable” and when management asks why not just shrug and turn to “Bob” and say something like “I know you are super busy, where else might we squeeze this in?” And let the conversation fall out.

        You need Bob reeled in:
        For safety reasons – you are right – accidents with these materials is dangerous for Bob, you, everyone, and everyone’s workflow going forward.
        While Bob’s habits might be useful in the short term in the long run they will have a number of negative impacts – Bob is effectively doing the work of two right? What happens when Bob is burnt out, goes on leave, leaves the job? Does the company know to replace Bob with 2.4FTE? Also if Bob does screw something up then EVERYTHING gets delayed while that gets sorted out, that’s problematic.
        Quality of results: Not just the errors in the moment, but over time… depending on the type of lab you run, the impacts on machines and maintenance schedules for them, the overall consistency of process etc risks your entire body of work being called into question. Bob might be putting a little stress into the system and things might not be consistent.
        Anyone want to bet with me that Bob is cutting corners? Not following processes? Some tests being rushed? Awesome data out of those.

        Why does Bob do all this? Does he have a hero complex? Does he have a shitty home life and want to escape to work for some reason? Does he have a hyper focus and genuinely not care about anything but the results? Nail the motivation and you might be able to unwind the ‘how to fix’.

    2. Anne Shirley Blythe*

      This is so clear-headed (something I am not today). It didn’t even occur to me. The OP does not have to be the fall guy.

    3. NerdyKris*

      It’s a really bad idea for the person in charge of OSHA compliance to be not documenting violations of OSHA.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        This. It’s yet another reason to rope in the manager; if the OSHA compliance person isn’t reporting violations to their higher ups that’s a bad, bad look.

      2. WeirdChemist*

        This is not technically a violation of OSHA, in that there is no rule in place that specifically prohibits working alone in labs. However, if the coworker got hurt/etc while disobeying safety rules, and it was found out that the LW knew that they were being unsafe and didn’t stop them, the lab could absolutely get in trouble for it under more general “safe workplace” standards. So more of a roundabout OSHA violation than a direct one…

        But if this does get OSHA’s attention (unlikely unless coworker gets injured/killed), LW is absolutely first in line to get in trouble for it. Also, let’s not have the worker get maimed for this to come to a head please…

        1. OSHA Officer*

          This is the case – I did a lot of research on if there was a specific law we would be in violation of and couldn’t find one, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was still a serious concern here. I’ll definitely be documenting it and talking to our boss about it.

          1. WeirdChemist*

            Here is the “general safety” violation I was thinking of:

            In order to get cited for this, you need to show the four things listed:
            1) Employer failed to keep the workplace free of the hazard (you are not enforcing the working alone rule even though you know about it)
            2) The hazard is recognized (you guys have a rule against working alone because you recognize it as a bad idea, and there are plenty of historical examples that show that working alone in a lab is unsafe)
            3) Hazard was likely to cause harm (again, historical examples of why working alone in a lab is a bad idea)
            4) A feasible method to prevent the hazard was available (stronger enforcement working alone, implementing a buddy/check-in system, secured building access, etc)

            Again, unlikely for OSHA to actually come down on you for this unless he is injured/killed doing it, but if he is they will investigate. And you could easily be found in violation of this clause if you don’t act!

              1. State OSHA*

                Minor caveat… Depending on what state you live in, you could be covered by your state’s OSHA plan, not fed OSHA, which might have more restrictive rules than fed OSHA. Be sure you check into that too.

          2. anonymous anteater*

            OSHA also says workplaces should have a work alone policy, even though they don’t prescribe what that policy says. You are perfectly reasonable to restrict what can be done when alone and make that your workplace policy. If you google for “work alone policy” you will find a bunch from large employers. Maybe reference one from a organization that is close to you or in a similar industry, to make your case.
            Here is one from Princeton

            1. RPOhno*

              Came here to say this. There are some letters of interpretation floating around for specific industries that have more specific requirements, though I don’t think R&D is one of them. Also, check and see what some of the safety industry professional societies (ABSA, AIHA, ASSP, etc) have to say about best practices and look into any other regulatory agencies with purview (state COSH, local fire department requirements, NRC if you handle any radiolabeled compounds) to see if they have more to say on lone worker standards

            2. Recovering Safety Manager*

              Agreed. Working alone is generally covered by company policy rather than specific regulation (aside from the General Duty Clause cited above), and given this individual’s behavior (and for general worker protection going forward), I’d recommend creating one for this workplace.

              The Princeton policy anonymous anteater cites above is a really good example.

          3. Anax*

            If you’re specifically in chemistry, you might be able to find some information on “safety moments” through the ACS to help explain/corroborate your concerns. They’ve been very focused on lab safety in the last few years.

          4. EC*

            It depends on the lab. The university I work for has a rule that at least one member of the safety team should be present if people are working. I got the certification because I’m in the lab alone quite a bit. There is no rule saying I can’t work alone or stay all night.

            Everyone in the lab is going to be certified to work with the hazardous materials, so I don’t see why that would be an issue at all.

        2. Research Safety Guy*

          My day job is research health and safety. This is exactly right. There’s coincidentally a discussion about this very topic going on within the American Chemical Society’s Division of Chemical Health and Safety right now.

        3. ChemE*

          Working 36 hours at a stretch is its own OSHA violation, though, isn’t it? When I was working in a regulated industry, shifts could be max 12 hours, and also you had to take off minimum 1 day every 14. If he’s not working weekends that second part doesn’t apply, but even if 12 hours was on the conservative end, there’s no way that 36 hours (since I would argue that he can’t prove he slept) is allowed.

      3. Artemesia*

        Working alone in a hazardous setting needs to be stopped. My DIL told me of a student who worked in a woodshop alone at night and got an arm caught in a circular power sander — horrifying injury, trapped in the machine, bled to death. It was an injury that was always going to be horrific, but would not have been fatal if someone was there to call 911. She might have lost an arm but not her life.

        Even if you are not in charge of safety this is something that has to be reported; as you are, absolutely. Imagine what you will have to say during the lawsuit or police investigation if you don’t?

        1. Divergent*

          This is the rationale my organization gives for having us do checkins and checkouts when working from home, and also apparently following up if we’re not active in teams. Home = working alone = hazardous. Though I don’t work in a woodshop from home during work hours.

        2. Adult*

          When I was in undergrad, a student working in a lab on our campus alone overnight (against the rules – overnight was okay, but not alone) died as well – different issue but same idea that she probably would have survived (and with a pretty good recovery) if someone had been there to call for help.

          Nobody thinks they’re going to be the one to make a mistake… especially workaholics.

        3. Anax*

          Absolutely. And in a lab, the danger isn’t always immediate.

          Here’s a link, for instance:

          All of these probably won’t affect the sleepy worker – they’ll affect the NEXT worker, who picks up a bottle without knowing it’s slightly open, cuts themself on a sharp object that was left out, or is exposed to toxic gas because two incompatible chemicals were stored together.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            This is an excellent point. It’s a problem that this guy is violating sensible safety rules and putting himself at risk. It’s also a problem that his nonsense could harm his colleagues.

        4. Bruce*

          I worked a summer at a company that used high-voltage + high current power supplies, after I went back to school one of the staff died working alone. That was a tragedy for all involved in every way you can imagine.

          1. Bruce*

            I also worked late a lot as a young man, but there were people in the building and I was not doing anything dangerous. The people in the clean room had strict rules though, they had nasty gases and acids to worry about. I made career choices to stay away from wet chemistry!

    4. Awkwardness*

      This is such a good way to frame it!

      You might even take this as an opportunity and ask if certain procedures could be put in place to ensure it is not happening at all, as – I have no idea, as I do not work in a lab!- entrance with keycards that log times?

    5. Ellie*

      When I had a coworker do this at a previous job, they got themselves flagged as a security risk (working alone by preference with classified materials is a bright red flag if it continues after a formal warning). Eventually it came out that he was going through a divorce, and was doing anything to avoid having to go home. I felt for him, but he couldn’t do it, he knew he couldn’t do it, and security incidents are expensive and annoying to have to deal with. Tell your supervisor – this isn’t something you should be trying to deal with on your own. If he ends up having a heart attack or some kind of accident in there when he’s working alone, you could end up being charged.

      1. Just Another Cog*

        I thought maybe the coworker was going through something at home, as well. Maybe he’s got a housing issue? Or, maybe he’s just a jerk who flouts the rules just because.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        Good point about the security risk.

        The working alone on its own wouldn’t be a flag for me. But the working alone AGAIN and REPEATEDLY after being told not to PLUS getting ANGRY when being reminded not to work alone would be throwing red flags all over the place.

        Insisting on working alone, at off hours, in ways (ie not just alone but long hours) that increase risk of workplace accidents, injuries, errors PLUS insubordination PLUS poor unprofessional response/issues with emotional regulation. If I was his manager he’d be getting a formal write up and might even have his wings clipped for a period in terms of access to the lab. (ie he can’t let himself in, can only go in if accompanied by someone)

    6. Hot Flash Gordon*

      It’s troubling that he’s doing this off the clock, so to speak. That could get your boss in hot water with your local labor authority. Especially if you terminate him and he decides to spin it so that it appears that it was expected not to report actual hours worked and now he wants back pay. Even if he’s salaried, there are overtime laws for salaried people working over a certain number of hours a week. If it’s not a safety violation, I would go with the working off the clock portion.

  2. Antilles*

    I’m in charge of OSHA compliance and ensuring that we’re following local and federal safety standards.
    This is the entire answer right here. This is specifically your job to address, no different than if he decided to practice his juggling routine with bottles of hazardous chemicals or if he flat out refused to wear appropriate PPE.
    Tell your boss with the exact same alacrity as you would for those sort of situations.

    1. Abogado Avocado*


      This is serious. You have a duty, as the OSHA compliance officer, to advise the boss of deviations from lab rules. Your coworker has no corresponding right to flout the rules or expect you to keep such information secret.

      If there is an adverse event at work and OSHA investigates, believe me, the investigators will ask you about lab rules, what you knew about deviations from those rules, whether you reported them, etc. OSHA also can obtain authority to check logs, cellphone data, etc. to determine the truth of what they’ve been told. And do not think for a moment you can’t get prosecuted for statements that aren’t made under oath to federal investigators. (See, e.g., Martha Stewart.)

      There may be all sorts of reasons your coworker is bedding down in the lab at night — including that you live in an expensive locale and he can’t afford housing. But that’s something HR and your EAP should be dealing with, not you and especially not when your lab is handling hazardous material.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, having been in the chemistry/environmental business, having people staying overnight/sleeping in a lab would have me talking to management. Sure, if the office areas are not directly connected to the lab, and he stays out of the lab itself, in might be okay, but I’d start checking security cameras in the lab for after hours presence.

        If you don’t have security cameras in the area with hazardous material I suggest you arrange to get some (CC TV) so that if an accident happens, you have some hard data on what led up to it. IMO, it’s fine to have camera coverage in high risk areas as long as people know it is monitored (in part for their protection.)

    2. Momma Bear*

      Plenty of jobs have required rest periods. If he’s working 36 hrs (mostly) straight, that has to be dangerous. You’re in a *lab*.

      I’d report it. If you don’t, you’re not doing YOUR job. If he’s hiding this, what else is he hiding? Is he really doing lab things or is that cover for something he shouldn’t be doing? If you work for the feds or are even fed-adjacent, that’s all the more reason to report weird, secretive working hours.

      Remember, if he gets fired, that’s on HIM. He shouldn’t be doing what got him fired.

      1. JustAnotherCommenter*

        If he’s hiding this, what else is he hiding? Is he really doing lab things or is that cover for something he shouldn’t be doing?

        Big time! And maybe I just watch too much TV, but my eyebrows immediately hit the ceiling reading this letter. I doubt OPs coworker is just keeping track of their experiments.

        1. Genevieve en Francais*

          Eh, my husband works in a lab and if he didn’t have me and the kids, there’s a solid chance he’d spend 36 hours in a row just to get stuff processed faster so he didn’t have to deal with it later. And he’s not emotionally invested in his job or anything (it’s not research, it’s a commercial lab), he just hates leaving stuff unfinished.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            I, too, married a scientist and this was the first thing I insisted upon: regular sleep hours. He’s a bit of a nightowl and would work for 24-36 hours when we were dating, then his mood would get really dark over the next couple of days. It was a bit alarming and I told him so. Now, I think he likes the regular sleep times and is seeing the benefit despite things going slower.

            1. Observer*

              He’s a bit of a nightowl and would work for 24-36 hours when we were dating, then his mood would get really dark over the next couple of days.

              There is a difference between being a night own and working 24-36 hours straight. I’ve known a lot of night owls in my life. And *al* of them would be affected by working that long.

              1. WantonSeedStitch*

                Yeah, “night owl” to me means, “has the same needs for work vs. non-work time as other people, but is more alert and productive at night,” not, “can work without stopping for a day and a half.”

              2. MM*

                This sounds like night-owl-ism plus bouts of hyperfocus to me, since that’s exactly how I was, once upon a time. Non-normative circadian rhythms and ADHD type behaviors do correlate to some degree.

                Not diagnosing the husband, just suggesting an explanation for why Butterfly Counter might have applied the term “night owl” to this behavior–they could be conflating two things that seem related because they both affect his sleep rhythms.

          2. Nonanon*

            Yeahhh former researcher here and sometimes experiments aren’t 9-5 (you REALLY have to make sure to plan your 12hr timepoints right; even then, lets say I have baseline at 5am and 12hr at 5pm; I’m probably in the lab setting up 3-4ish, might need to clean up 6-7ish, and plot data afterwards because the grant’s due soon and my PI needs to review it ASAP so I don’t leave until 8-9ish; from 3am-9pm is close to a 20hr day, not even considering commute). It’s still UNCOMMON to be in the lab with no breaks 24+hrs, but not unheard of; I’ve had to wake up people who fell asleep at their desks before (again, 12hr timepoints are THE WORST).

            (IMO employee is DEFINATELY a recent academia transplant, where stuff like this is more normalized; not GREAT and still has many of the same issues pointed out throughout but more normalized)

            1. EngineeringFun*

              Agreed. I saw this is academia a lot. But you can’t do this on the job. We’ve have someone start the test early in the am and then another person stay late to finish the test. This works if you have a good SOP in place.

          3. Ellie*

            Oh yeah, engineers will do that all the time too, and sometimes its a real asset when you only have a small window to get something installed or upgraded in. However, there are still rules around it. We have bunk-houses at some of our sites so that people don’t have to drive home, and rules around when and how often food gets brought in, and which department pays for it. They also need to take a minimum amount of time off in lieu once the job is done, so that they get a real break between stints. The worst I ever heard of was a 21 hour shift (which was an emergency – it was a military rescue mission, men in open water), it can be done but not without oversight. You can’t just decide to work those kind of hours on your own. It’s the secrecy and his defensive attitude that’s the problem here. He probably is working hard at his tasks, and getting a lot done.

        2. WeirdChemist*

          Not that weird to me for a lab scientist to *want* to work late/alone. Sometimes science just has terrible timing. Some experiments can’t be paused and picked up again tomorrow, you either stay late to finish or start over completely from scratch another time. Sometime it’s nice not to have to compete for equipment. Sometimes scientists are socially awkward introverts and like not having people around too closely while they work lol.

          It is, however, a terrible idea! Never work alone when dealing with hazardous materials! Working tired creates mistakes, not just “I messed up a number and now my data is suspect”, but also “I messed up how much I was adding of hazardous thing and it exploded”!

          Seriously, report this guy

          1. mgguy*

            Thinking back to my grad school days, I loved working at night/alone because I had shared equipment to myself and also didn’t have to deal with the one obnoxious guy in our group who always had to know what I was doing and needed me to explain every week how to make calibration curves(I’m still amazed that someone who eventually graduated with a PhD in analytical chemistry never actually fully grasped the theory/idea behind a calibration curve, but that’s another story) and just all kinds of other reasons.

            I’ve now moved on to the world of faculty, but at a school where we have a grand total of two FT faculty members in our department(including me), one PT staff, and a couple PT faculty. Saying you can’t work alone isn’t a practical policy for us, especially for our PT lab assistant, who does the job partially because she can pretty much come and go as she pleases at whatever hours make the most sense for her.

            Instead, as the person in charge of safety, I’ve designated certain tasks as “only do when someone else is around”, and required that any new task/protocol be cleared by me before independent work. Our lab assistant doesn’t have any formal training as a chemist, just as a lab tech, but worked in industry for years, is VERY particular about safety and cleanliness, and in general is very cautious about unknown tasks. In fact a lot of the ones on the “don’t do alone” list are things I end up doing because she’s uncomfortable with them(handling elemental bromine is a big one) so it all works out. Ultimately, though, I take what I do very seriously because yes, if something happened, aside from personally feeling terrible about it, it would come back on me…

        3. OSHA Officer*

          I have no reason to believe this is the case and many reasons to believe it isn’t. I work with a lot of scientists and we can be hard to pull away from our work, and his overall work ethic and attention to detail is noticeably better than many people I’ve worked with, which I believe is the root of this.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        If he’s hiding this, what else is he hiding?

        This, LW. If he’s hiding this, he frankly is on my suspect list for altering/falsifying data he recorded in a sleep-deprived state, at the very, very least. This isn’t just your job on the line, it’s the lab’s reputation, and everyone else who works there could be tainted.

        1. ViridianGreen*

          That seems like a huge overreaction.

          This is actually pretty normal for working in a lab, especially if you’re on the academia side of things. It’s not *good*, and OP is well within their rights to ask him to stop, but it’s not inherently shady. I can name a handful of people off the top of my head who do this in my current program.

          1. Genevieve en Francais*

            Yeah, I’m seeing a lot of jumping to some pretty wild conclusions. And while safety should be paramount in all labs, without knowing what they’re doing, this isn’t automatically “OMG dangerous chemicals and meth” territory, it might well be “bad idea, bad precedent, you’re gonna mess up the data being sleep-deprived” territory.

            All we know for sure is the coworker seems to think he’s some kind of a hardworking rebel for doing this and is
            flouting orders…which is bad enough right there! And while there certainly *could* be more to it, we just don’t have enough info to know. And that wouldn’t change OP’s next steps anyway.

            1. spiriferida*

              For my part, my response is mostly informed by the fact that it’s any kind of safety officer having this sort of reaction (though even in the absence of extremely hazardous biowaste or chemicals, I want people working with compressed gasses to be working safely). Even without direct authority, it speaks to the possibility of generally poor safety practices in ways that have made me leave jobs before. If there’s anyone who should be a lion about safety, it’s the compliance officer.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                His impulse, preference to do it (work alone, work for long stretches on a particular project, work overnight) are less of a OMG issue on their own.

                It’s his reactions to being told NOT to do those things or even to being asked about it that are likely leading me and others to the *what ELSE is going on that employer should be worried about* place.

          2. Nina*

            At my college one of the postgrads often had to work late, and his wife made herself available as a night-work lab buddy, initially just for him, but later for anyone who needed one. For a pretty token hourly rate, she’d come and sit in the breakroom adjacent to the lab and knit and watch the same TV show she would have been watching at home.
            Even the PI hired her a few times. The H&S guy thought it was a great solution. ‘Stop people from working late at night’ was never even considered.

          3. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

            Working long hours may be normal. Is lying about it and hiding the fact from your managers after being explicitly told what hours to work normal?

            Somehow, I doubt it. And I think that set of behaviors are the ones that have so many of us jumping to the “he could be lying about or hiding other things.”

            1. Lydia*

              This. This isn’t the kind of situation people are using to rationalize why this guy is doing it. He has been told explicitly not to do it, which means all the hypothetical reasons why he might be doing it and “well, in this situations” don’t work here. He’s doing something he’s been told not to do, the end.

        2. Twix*

          Yeah, I definitely would not jump to that conclusion, particularly for someone working in STEM. I used to work 24 hours in a row pretty regularly due to a combination of needing to clock 40 hours/week while working around my chronic health issues and one of those issues being an anxiety disorder. (Eventually HR told me I couldn’t keep doing it, but worked with me to find accommodations.) I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, but my point is that there are plenty of reasons someone might do this that may not be good, but aren’t malicious either.

          1. Twix*

            That said, I work in a field where we sometimes have access to classified data, and this is a textbook example of an insider threat. I have to do training on it annually and “Working very unusual hours, especially while no one else is there” is one of the examples they discuss. So I wouldn’t jump to assume that he’s doing anything insidious, but I also wouldn’t assume he’s not. it needs to be addressed either way.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              Maybe a “trust but verify” situation? Assume he’s not doing anything sinister, but also put checks, safeguards, process controls in place so you can detect if he is and prevent him or anyone else from doing shady things in the future.

              1. Lydia*

                The OP shouldn’t have to put in checks and all that to make sure he isn’t doing anything wrong with his lab work. The employee has been told explicitly not to work on his own. That’s it. That’s the end of the story. He’s been told, he’s flouting it, he needs to be reported.

                1. Hannah Lee*

                  I was responding more to this particular sub-thread ie the (not specific to this employee/employer) discussion of whether or not it’s automatically cause for suspicion of other things that he’s insisting on working on his own off hours, and what might be reasons, understandable or dubious why he might be doing it.

                  As far as what the LW should do, yeah, report it to management so that THEY can take action given what he’s doing (whether disciplinary towards that employee and/or process/system controls to make clear no one is allowed to do this, prevent any employee from doing it)

    3. sometimeswhy*

      This. You don’t just have standing, you have a responsibility. If something happens, you AND he AND your boss and probably their boss will be held liable. Report it to your boss and if your boss doesn’t act, report it to OSHA.

      He’s not a good coworker. He’s putting himself, his colleagues, and the lab all at risk.

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        And if something does happen and an investigation finds that you were aware, you can be fired with cause. “I got fired because I ignored OSHA rules” is not good.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          It’s going to make finding another job in the field difficult if not impossible.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      CoWorker is using Weaponized Jargon to confuse/obfuscate OP.
      “I don’t need to be micromanaged.”
      OP now feels s/he has crossed a professional boundary.
      OP, you have not.
      Ensuring someone in your purview follows the rules of said purview is not micromanaging. That is not managing at all. That is enforcing the rules.
      If he is incapable of following the rules, that is for his manager to handle. If the result is that coworker is then micromanaged (perhaps a check in, check out email. Perhaps having to time stamp all work in a digital record) he may have a complaint. Or maybe he can just follow the rules.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Exactly. Micromanaging would be picking apart all his data, questioning all his decisions, making arbitrary rules, and so on.

        This is just MANAGING. And it’s something the LW’s manager should be doing. If it’s their job to enforce OSHA standards the manager should back them up all the way and shut this down posthaste.

      2. Dog momma*

        I get the feeling he might not be checking out. But if he is, he’s just clocking out and going right back to work.

    5. RIP Pillowfort*

      Exactly. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned working in a lab- if something doesn’t seem safe it’s time to talk with the decision makers to make it safe through internal policies and procedures.

    6. WeirdChemist*

      As a scientist who has worked in safety compliance before:
      -You are likely not *just* in charge of OSHA regulations, but rather lab safety as a whole. If your lab has rules against working alone or outside of certain hours, then it is your duty to enforce these rules.
      -There is no specific OSHA requirements for laboratory workers for working alone or hours worked in a row. There are ways to cite based on more general “this is unsafe, stop it” kind of stuff that this may fall under, and if he gets hurt/etc while working alone at night your lab may be liable if you knowingly allowed him work in a way that you believed to be unsafe
      -Idk what it is about some people, but they get SO angry that you DARE suggest that they are being unsafe or that they could be safer… lab safety people are under appreciated!!!

      To sum up: yes you should tell your boss!!!

      1. Four cats*

        Yes, I was a senior biotech exec and people are missing the point there. OSHA rules are effectively a backstop. The key is that your company has (or needs to put in place) explicit safety policies including a prohibition on the behaviors you have described. This person is in violation of a company policy or best practice. His behavior should be documented in writing and shared with his boss and the CEO. Ideally you are having a monthly review of safety compliance and violations. This is a huge risk for the company and this individual.
        Also strongly encourage you to bring in outside professional safety people to advise on setting policies. It doesn’t sound like OP has had any formal training in this area.

    7. Former Lab Worker*

      OP said he couldn’t find any laws that say working overnight in a lab is not okay. To me that reads as OSHA and other standards (which are not laws) don’t prohibit what his coworker is doing. In other words, it’s a rule your boss has created. If the scope of your responsibility is OSHA/other standards and he’s not breaching OSHA/other standards, and this is a policy of the lab enacted by your boss, I might stay out of it. I don’t think it’s unusual for lab workers and scientists to burn the midnight oil as others have mentioned. I agree that 36 hours is both unhealthy and compromising one’s ability to function, but aren’t there other professions that routinely require this kind of stint, in healthcare, for example, or firefighting, or aviation? I’m not saying it’s wise, just that there’s precedent. I don’t know what kind of lab we’re talking about or what kind of activities, but I don’t think it’s necessarily dangerous to be alone in a lab overnight if you follow proper safety protocols or even that this is necessarily uncommon. I do think it’s entirely possible what he’s doing activity-wise there is sanctioned. Maybe he just loves his work or really wants to get it done? You did say he was a good coworker otherwise. How do you know he’s not sleeping at all in a 36 hr time frame? What is really bothering you about this? It sounds like you just don’t like that he’s not following a particular rule and you are looking for a way to bring him into line, which it sounds like isn’t your place. Given the info provided, I’ll opt for a hot take here and say I think it would be lame for you to rat him out as a coworker but note I know nothing about OSHA or your lab or this person.

      1. spiriferida*

        If it’s a policy enacted by the boss, it’s a bad one, but if for some reason it were, then 1. The person in charge of OSHA SAFETY should absolutely be informed of that and 2. Wouldn’t the coworker say they were doing it with permission, instead of NOT RECORDING HIS TIME? And also – it is ABSOLUTELY the purview of a safety officer to create these rules.

        You say you’re a former lab worker with your name, so I’m curious how well you remember your own annual safety trainings and manuals, inspections, and accreditation requirements.

        1. Gumby*

          And if this lab has even one government contract the whole not reporting his time accurately is going to be such a huge headache in an audit someday.

        2. DisgruntledPelican*

          You’ve misunderstood.

          There is no OSHA regulation saying he can’t work overnight, just the boss saying he can’t work overnight.

          Former Lab Worker is saying the coworker is just breaking the boss’s rule (a rule that is a higher standard than OSHA, which is a good thing), not OSHA’s regulation.

      2. WeirdChemist*

        There is no direct OSHA violation here, however there are citations that can be issued for general non-safety by OSHA. They are generally not pursued unless there is an injury/maiming/death, so it is unlikely that OSHA would see the situation as it is now and get them in trouble, but if anything happened to the coworker while he was knowingly breaking lab safety rules, and it was found that their safety officer/management knew that he was breaking lab safety rules and allowed him to continue doing it anyway, the lab could absolutely get in trouble for that. Even if the LW’s job is literally just OSHA compliance, the workplace has an obligation to create a safe working environment for their employees, and enforcing general lab safety rules would still fall under that purview.

        I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the LW is not *just* in charge of OSHA compliance but also lab safety as a whole (just based on my own lab experiences across multiple labs in multiple industries, generally these roles are combined). Not working alone is a very reasonable (and common) lab safety rule. They work with compressed gasses, what if there’s a gas leak and the coworker passes out? Who will call 911? They work with hazardous chemicals, what if coworker splashes it in his eyes? Who will help the blinded dude to the eyewash?

        Even divorcing this issue from a pure lab safety perspective, the workplace has a rule in place, and the coworker is refusing to follow that rule. That is reason enough for him to get in trouble with the boss.

      3. WeirdChemist*

        Also, OSHA standards *ARE* laws. Businesses are required *by law* to comply with OSHA standards/regulations. These regulations are set by congress, and can only be updated by congressional approval because they are *laws*

      4. Festively Dressed Earl*

        If LW’s boss made the policy, then that boss deserves a raise for enforcing sanity. Yes, experiments don’t always fit into a neat 8 hour day, but 36 hours with an occasional catnap is a recipe for disaster. Literally. Sleep deprivation contributed to 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, Flight 447, Flight 1420 – the list is massive. Fatigue messes up your focus and reasoning skills, and the loss of cognitive function can be easy to miss. Common or not, this isn’t just about fines or the coworker’s safety; mistakes when working with hazardous materials can endanger tons of people very quickly.

      5. Brain sparkles*

        This is pretty much where I fall too.
        Time course experiments that require the use specific, in-demand equipment are definitely easier and more efficient overnight – and may in fact be the only option! They don’t necessarily require super-attention to detail. I’ve also worked in labs with very fussy ‘you must be in the lab/office from 9-5 every day’ requirements, which meant that if you needed to do an overnight experiment, you were basically forced to do a 36 hour shift, rather than going home to sleep.
        I’ve personally found that labs (especially in academia) are very, very good at telling people to do the right thing, but then putting huge pressure on people to do whatever it takes to get the work done… Just one of many reasons why I don’t work in one anymore!

      6. Ellie*

        I disagree, I think the least OP should do is formally inform their boss that he is doing this. Then OP is off the hook if something happens. The letter implied that he was hiding what he was doing, I don’t think its a stretch to believe that his boss doesn’t know what’s happening, and would hold it against OP as well for hiding it.

        1. Antilles*

          OP is responsible for lab safety and OSHA compliance. In the boss’ eyes, that duty *certainly* includes making sure people follow lab safety protocols.
          If something goes wrong and it comes out that OP knew about it? OP is 100% getting fired right alongside this guy for purposefully ignoring a blatant violation of lab safety rules.

      7. Kt*

        healthcare and aviation are great examples, actually, in that both overwhelmingly have work hour restrictions that would make this impossible. often there is a ten or twelve hour limit on work and a minimum break in between. Medical residency has hour limits and being a pilot or crew has restrictions enough that they’re willing to leave 350 people at a time in an inconvenient place to abide by those rules.

      8. Lydia*

        This ain’t it. OSHA does have standards and those standards are intentionally vague so that companies can interpret them at a higher standard if they choose. Further down someone already quoted the standard and all this employee’s behavior goes against the standard, which can get the entire lab in trouble if something happened.

        Your hot take is pretty bad.

    8. Armchair analyst*

      Commercial buildings usually cannot have people sleeping overnight in them, according to local zoning laws

      Usually I don’t love local zoning laws but they are there for a reason

      If there is a problem after hours, first responders respond differently to commercial buildings than to residential buildings on the assumption of who is inside. This is not a safe situation.

      You can also blame your insurance company and your company counsel (lawyers) if needed

  3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    This is an accident waiting to happen. As the OSHA guy, when it happens, if you don’t speak up, you could find yourself in hot water.

    Tell your boss immediately. As in today.

    If the guy gets fired, that the consequences of his own actions, not anything you did. Protecting his job is not more important than protecting YOUR job.

    1. Jellyfish Catcher*

      I came to say the same thing. The LW will very likely be fired when (not if) this hits the fan. It will also impact his reputation and whatever is left of his career. LW, do the right thing asap.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “He’s an otherwise good employee.”
      Alison has commented on this before.
      A good employee does not:
      refuse to delegate work,
      refuse to share information
      refuse to follow rules
      A good coworker does not:
      Challenge your authority to do your job as OSHA guy,
      Ignore your legitimates requests in your OSHA role
      Make you think you are doing something wrong by enforcing the rules of your role.

      He is a good science lab test person.
      He is being a lousy employee and coworker.

      1. Observer*

        He is a good science lab test person.

        I’m not even sure that this is true. People need sleep. If you don’t get it, your ability to work, make good judgements, etc. go down. Which means that there is a good chance that his work is compromised in some fashion. The fact that he insists that this is no big deal doesn’t mean that it’s no big deal. It means that one should question whether he’s as good as he says, even when he gets enough sleep.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I did have a question when I read the coworker’s statement:
          “he got extremely defensive and would say that unless we found fault with his data, there was no problem”
          How would they find fault with his data without observing his testing and/or recreating his tests?
          Isn’t there ultimately a level of trust regarding the person performing the test? Not even to the point that he is manipulating data, simply that he is awake, alert and attentive enough to fully process the test and its results?

          1. Enai*

            There are certain statistical analyses that would reveal badly falsified data, like exponential decay that’s actually linear, or data that actually doesn’t deviate from expected values at all. But just data that’s not quite right (outliers removed, last digits juxtaposed)? I’m not sure. There’s whole groups who look at the pictures in a paper to see if they’re used twice for different measurements. If that were simple, they wouldn’t do it by hand, would they? And even if the analyses _are_ simple, they won’t find anything if nobody suspects a thing and they’re not done.

            1. Katie Impact*

              Pretty much. The scientific community mostly relies on people to act in good faith, because manually checking every bit of raw data would require a staggering amount of extra work. It’s generally only done if there’s already some reason to suspect that something is wrong with the data.

      2. EC*

        In research delegating things is simply not an option a lot of the time. We all have specialized skills and take care of our own experiments. If I am the one who knows how to do a specific technique, and my experiment requires certain time points, then I’m in the lab until its done. It doesn’t matter what time it is.

    3. Prof*

      OP may already be in hot water, if it comes out they knew and didn’t report sooner. This is a very big deal!

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      My dark side sometimes longs for the evil power to flout rules, make my co-workers falsely responsible for my bad choices, and fling out accusations of “micromanaging” while openly violating safety standards, and still be regarded as a nice person and good worker who the people I would probably destroy the careers don’t want to get fired.

      Why don’t you want this person gone, LW? He’s basically setting you up to be the fall guy for when he messes up data or causes an explosion. It’s like being friends with an arsonist because so far he’s only set fire to your garage, not your house.

    5. WeirdChemist*

      It’s such a common sentiment in letters here to say “I don’t want to get them in trouble/fired!”

      If they are knowingly breaking workplace rules, that are getting themselves in trouble/fired! They are the ones choosing to act in this way! They are the ones to blame when they face consequences for their own willful behavior!

      This coworker knows he isn’t supposed to be doing this, that’s why he’s hiding it from your boss. If you report it (and you should!), he is the one who got *himself* in trouble for it.

      1. Eulerian*

        It’s not just that they don’t want to be responsible for someone being fired – it’s often also because they like the person (or at least sometimes have a laugh with them), and don’t want to see them gone. That’s what I’m getting from this letter – LW doesn’t sound like she’s worried about being responsible for him being fired.

        1. Eulerian*

          Also even if you’re not responsible for the consequences to someone else’s actions, it’s still pretty scary to actually be the one to report it when you can guess what the result to them will be. It’s quite easy to forget that from the sanctuary of a comments section.

  4. Peanut Hamper*

    I work in a lab and nobody is allowed to work alone, even if all they are doing is processing results on a computer. Accidents happen.

    Google “lab safety working alone” and the first few results that come up are from college web sites saying that you should avoid working alone.

    1. Pdweasel*

      That was my first thought, too. It’s Freshman Science-level safety: never work alone in the lab.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I used to work in an office where we answered phones and we weren’t allowed to work alone without prior approval and a safety plan. The most dangerous thing we did was staple papers together and it was still banned. Employers don’t want the liability.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Same. I did desktop publishing. A few people had switched to starting half an hour earlier to better align with the bus system. I asked if I could start half an hour later.
          “Sorry, Not Tom. You will be the only person on the floor and I can’t approve that. I’m sorry.”
          Oh well for me. I was not going to argue the point. I hadn’t thought of that.
          (A few years later we moved out of the city. A lot of people assigned there already worked a later schedule and my boss came to me with the offer to switch.)
          So yeah, not working alone is not off the wall as rules go.

      2. Nesprin*

        It’s worth noting that after that poor undergrad girl got killed at UCLA working with pyrophorics (i.e. catches fire when reacting with air) alone, on a weekend, with no lab coat on that her academic supervisor was investigated for negligent homicide.

        That said, I’ve worked alone nights and weekends many times, but I have to check in and out with a coworker, and there’s rules against working with liquid nitrogen, open flames, large quantities of hazardous materials, anything above BSL1 etc.

        1. RC*

          Yep I was just looking up that case.

          I think there was another one a few years later; that one appears too early because I think there was one that happened when I was in grad school.

          As a night owl I am somewhat sympathetic, but being in the lab alone when you’re also the only one in the building is absolutely an accident waiting to happen.

            1. jojo*

              That’s horrifying to imagine.

              This paragraph jumped out at me: “The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an inspection that will look into factors surrounding the accident and whether the lab complied with safety standards, said Ted Fitzgerald, an agency spokesman in Boston.”

          1. Bruce*

            A guy I knew in college was in the chem lab one evening and got blasted in the face by hot H2O2, enough got around his face shield to partially blind him and give him face burns. He was able to get out of the lab and get help, his face and eyes recovered fully , but he told me he’d learned his lesson and was glad it was not at a higher price

    2. Cinn*

      This. I’m in the UK so not sure if same rules apply, but I’ve always been subject to lone work policies (basically – don’t, and if you do you’ve gotta have regular check ins etc) because if something goes wrong in the lab and you’re alone and no one knows you’re there… Yeah, no.

      Seriously even just from a building evac situation this is… bad. He can’t just be in on his own and no one knows he’s there. This needs documenting, either by yourself as the OSHA guy or by raising with a manager.

      1. Anonychick*

        Seriously even just from a building evac situation this is… bad. He can’t just be in on his own and no one knows he’s there. This needs documenting, either by yourself as the OSHA guy or by raising with a manager.

        This is a really good point, AND one that there may be OSHA language about. (Also, and especially if LW is, in fact, any kind of general safety officer as many have suggested, keep in mind that this may—MAY; I honestly don’t know!—also run afoul of local fire codes.)

    3. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, that was my first thought. OP seems to be approaching this as, “you might a mistake because of lack of”, but I would have thought “wtf are you going to do if you’re injured and there’s no one else here”.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Because it isn’t his fault. It was an accident/workplace incident. Nothing to do with his physical and mental state.

    4. Marshmallows*

      I also work in a lab and we are also not allowed to work alone. We have protocols in place for if we do have to and violation of them is a fireable offense.

      At a minimum your company should develop a policy for working alone (what sort of approval do you have to have for it to be ok, what safeties are in place, etc). They make “loner” devices that you can use if you have to work alone. They detect falls and have ways to alert authorities. We also use a checkin procedure sometimes in lieu of the devices, that can be tough on a small team though.

      We also aren’t allowed to work more than 16 hr in a row and if we hit 16 hr we have to be gone for at least 8. It’s not routine for us to do that though.

      It also is important that your boss knows what’s going on because the company should be providing appropriate staffing to cover long experiments that need to be monitored heavily. We frequently run experiments that require 24 hr coverage but we arrange for that coverage. Typically 12 hr shifts are easier to manage on a small team instead of 8’s, but you should definitely be arranging for shift coverage in situations where an experiment is longer than 12 hr. 8-10 can be doable occasionally alone but if you’re doing 8-10 hr experiments frequently you should do staggered coverage. If your work is intermittent, lab temps are a thing too.

      There are so many options and your company should seriously consider them because this behavior is an accident waiting to happen. The number of stupid stuff I’ve seen happen because of exhaustion in a lab is just well… stupid. People do not think straight when they’re tired and the risk is so much higher in this type of setting.

      Good luck!

      1. WeirdChemist*

        Yes, everyone is talking about the lack of sleep (including the LW and the coworker) as a “what if he records data wrong?”. I have seen so many lab incidents (luckily all minor) that could be directly tied to sleepiness. Too many people rely on “well we’ll just act safely, that will prevent any incidents” as a safety management plan (a terrible idea), but when you’re tired, your risk management, critical thinking, reaction times, and dexterity all start to diminish, all of which increase the likelihood of a safety accident!

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Or serious damage to equipment. My dad was a chemistry professor and sleepy students making errors destroyed one centrifuge and sent another expensive piece of equipment out for $100K with of repairs.

    5. Hmmmmm*

      I am someone who is worked for decades at many biological labs at many different academic institutions, and I have working alone or overnight has never been discouraged or prohibited, in either all the formal EHS trainings or casually, from anyone.

      The only rule was that undergrads – who are not experienced – are usually not allowed to work alone. Grad students, post-docs, techs, and research assistants have never had ANY explicit or implicit restrictions, in my experience.

  5. lyonite*

    Depending on the kind of lab work he’s doing, it might be pretty easy to prove he’s there well after the hours. A lot of instruments will log the time a run started and finished, and if it’s something you have to be hands-on to do. . .

  6. Knighthope*

    You would not be “getting him in trouble.” HIS choices and actions have consequences.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      This x1000, LW. You are not getting him in trouble. You are trying to prevent disastrous consequences of all stripes; he’s the one getting himself in trouble.

  7. Kara*

    Is he salary and where is he in relation to the overtime cutoff? If he’s on the wrong side of that cutoff or if he’s hourly, then he’s making the company liable for wage theft because he’s not being paid for all hours worked. That would be a legal issue with what he’s doing.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      Obligatory correction: the issue isn’t salary/hourly, it’s exempt (from overtime laws)/non-exempt. Salaried often lines up with exempt, but it doesn’t have to.

    2. mcl*

      Yeah my spouse’s company is currently really cracking down on unapproved overtime. It’s a huge problem, apparently – people are trying to keep working extra hours secret instead of talking to their managers about workload. Whether they feel safe talking to their managers… different issue. But any whiff of this going on is quickly being tracked down with Stern Talking Tos about how doing this under the radar will get you fired.

    3. Hot Flash Gordon*

      I made the same point as well. Even if he’s exempt, there are still laws stating that OT must be paid if the number of hours exceeds a certain amount. A friend of mine got a nice little payout when the law was enacted.

  8. KR*

    One thing to keep in mind too is that your workplaces insurance may not be set up for late night activity and having employees work overnights, even temporarily, could impact that coverage were an incident to take place. It’s another reason to take action to make sure you are at least covering your behind with communication to management.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Insurance companies are NOT going to cut this company any slack, for sure; one whisper of “I thought OSHA was just a suggestion” and they’re going to court to get out of payments, and they will win.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      We’re not a lab but mine is not, and if I came in in the middle of the night the motion sensors would go off and my boss would be alerted, even though I turned off the alarm. And she’d definitely want to know what the F I was doing there in the middle of the night.

  9. Nesprin*

    Bio lab worker here. This is both bad, and also depressingly common- if an experiment requires 6, 12, 18 and 24 hr time points then someone has to collect the middle of the night samples.

    Now as you are literally the OSHA person, it is within your mandate to talk to both this worker and their manager and set up guidelines for what work can be done alone, and what level of reporting would be required.

    It is also worth checking your insurance- often times work alone or work off hours would alter your risk profile in ways that your company wouldn’t approve of.

    I.e. if they have to work overnight, then maybe they can use lower level hazards, but higher level hazards should be locked out.

    If they work overnight, they need to notify you and their supervisor & again when they check out.

    1. JLG*

      +1 to this. I work in an academic lab and often times it’s literally not possible to accomplish the work within a standard 8-hr working day: if the conditions take 4 hrs to prep and 8 hrs to run it’s not ever gonna be done by 5, mice or cells or other living things that have to be attended to Every. Single. Day. Including. Christmas… on and on it goes. That’s not to say your coworker’s caviler time mentality is ideal, but it is common and sometimes absolutely required for certain kinds of experiments.

      1. Pdweasel*

        Exactly. At my uni they insisted we use the buddy system when coming in off-hours to do lab work. They didn’t care who our buddy was (lab partner, friend, roommate, random homeless guy off the street, whomever) as long as they were an adult and able to pull a safety shower lever and call 911 if need be.

      2. Awkwardness*

        But I guess that the whole organisational structure is designed support those requirements as insurance, emergency contacts for quick response, security checking in regulary?

        1. amoeba*

          Hah. Ummm, no, not really my experience (and that’s in Europe).
          If you were lucky, there’d be a security person making the rounds occasionally. And you weren’t suppose to do anything too safety-critical alone (weekends, nights), but be sure somebody else was around – but there was no definition given of “critical”, it was more a common sense thing, of which obviously not everybody had tons.

          I’ve seen some labs that had those “dead man switch” like things you wear around your neck who start an alarm if you fall, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Or where you had to sign in at the door outside of standard hours so they’d know you were there, but not like they’d check on you all the time – possibly if you didn’t come out after a few hours?

          But yeah, in academia, the rules were much, much less strict than in industry and a lot did rely on people acting carefully and responsibly.

      3. Divergent*

        And I can imagine situations (commute, for instance) where catching a couple hours of sleep at a time in an attached office actually gives me more sleep overall.

    2. JustaTech*

      Also bio worker – yes, ugh, middle of the night time points – but for things that are important/difficult, it just means that two people have to come in.
      But also, if you do the middle of the night time points that’s it, you’re not *also* doing all the day-time time points.

      I would be willing to bet a very great deal that this coworker has recently come from academia where there is a dangerous culture of “in the lab all the time, no breaks, no sleep”. When I was in academia I had to tell my boss (thankfully only once) that I would not do a process that required working 20 hours straight because there was no scientific reason, I would mess it up being that tired, and also the neighborhood was sketchy at night. I was staff so I was able to say that with minimal repercussions, but grad students often don’t have that protection.

      So LW, as the safety officer, you need to say “this is a safety thing, I don’t want you to die, be maimed, or ruin your experiments” and then coworker’s manager needs to really put their foot down and say “no 36 hour days, no overnights alone, if you have that many time points you *must* ask for help”. And then mean it.

      1. darlingpants*

        I’ve worked on the weekends/in the evenings plenty of times without a buddy, and I think that’s fine, but there’s always been security on site/on campus. In a 10 person company, it depends on if you’re in a lab complex with dedicated security staff what you should allow, but in a 10 person company requiring a buddy is also a huge impact on overall staff capacity and I think it’s reasonable not to require one.

        1. Nesprin*

          It’s worth considering the hazards of what they’re working on + presence of security etc as a backup vs. requiring a safety buddy. Eh, there’s work I won’t do without a buddy, and there’s work that I do routinely by myself with no backup.

          However, those decisions should not be made on a cost/staff capacity basis. If their work cannot be done without a backup, no one should be doing it without a backup.

        2. Butterfly Counter*

          In this case, it doesn’t sound as though there are regular projects that require such long hours or there would be an expectation that people stay late and overnight. This is seemingly one person’s preference and it’s entirely then within the rights of the boss/owner to prohibit overnights for everyone rather than a buddy system for the one person who wants regular all-nighters.

        3. JustaTech*

          Yeah, I’ve done nights and weekends alone, but only technically easy things that were low risk, and I always made sure to tell our building security I was on-site, just in case.

          And the truth is that Mr All-Nighter is much, much more likely to completely ruin his experiment by mixing up the plates or throwing out the wrong fraction or using the wrong settings than he is to burn down the building or pour paraformaldehyde all over himself (I hope!).

  10. Dust Bunny*

    You’re not getting him in trouble–he’s getting himself in trouble for continuing to do something he’s been told very clearly not to do.

    But this sounds unsafe, both for your data and possibly for him personally, either because he’s working (and commuting?) tired or because he’s dependably alone in the building all night (depending on the surrounding environment–my workplace is fine during the day but detritus we find in the morning suggests it’s more colorful after dark).

  11. Cat Tree*

    I would never ever work in a lab or manufacturing area alone! At an old job I very occasionally had to come in on weekends to change out gas tanks for a long experiment. Even though I was there for less than an hour, I refused to be alone in the building. Sometimes the CFO would come in and just sit in the office area and get work done. If he heard something or I didn’t come back soon he would know to go looking for me.

    This is one of the safety basics that labs teach on Day 1, along with not pipetting by mouth.

      1. not owen wilson*

        Academic technical engineer here- I have a paper saved to my desktop right now called “The Hazard of Orally Pipetting Tritium Oxide”. Tritium oxide is radioactive.

        1. Nesprin*

          That’s impressive- both the mouth pipetting and the cost of having enough tritium in one place to mouth pipette.

      2. JustaTech*

        I worked with a lab tech who was very technically competent, but had been trained in the former Soviet Union and had a few very old-fashioned habits. One of those was that when she would get frustrated with emptying the capillary tubes by just tapping on them she would mouth pipette (out).
        “Natalia, you Can Not mouth pipette! We work on HIV! It’s gross! It’s against the rules! Please don’t make me tell Boss.”
        (It sounds worse than it was, we never worked with a whole, dangerous HIV, just little pieces of it.)
        And she never did it again (in front of me).

    1. Nonanon*

      LISTEN, SOMETIMES you just have to dilute down a glucose solution and you wonder, would mouth pipetting sugar REALLY be that bad? Just once, to see what it’s like?

      (I have never mouth pipetted in my life, but yeah, the invasive thoughts are real)

    2. I Have RBF*

      This is one of the safety basics that labs teach on Day 1, along with not pipetting by mouth.

      Oh, man, that takes me back to when I worked in labs. Safety orientation – where the eye wash stations were, where the safety showers were, where to find the MSDSs, glove policy, how to dial 911 from a company phone, buddy system…

    3. amoeba*

      We still had an old biochemistry professor who told us those rules were all nonsense, pipetting by mouth was the best…

  12. Bippity Boppity*

    As someone who works on criminal cases involving insider threat, and nefarious use of hazardous, dual-use materials…please, please say something. This is textbook suspicious behavior.

    I’m not saying your coworker is staying overnight with full access to the lab because they have bad intentions…but if they did, wouldn’t it be worth preventing a potential incident?

    1. T.N.H*

      Good point. You want to establish a practice that no one is allowed to work alone or the people with nefarious purposes will see an opportunity.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Exactly this.

        Heck, even showing to people who aren’t up to the-no-good that you can’t just work overnight isn’t a bad thing.

    2. Ami*

      This is what I was going to say. This could be a data integrity issue, he could be falsifying data or experiments, it could be theft of equipment or materials, who even knows what is happening when no one else is around. Even if you assume best of intentions (as you did on your letter) it increases the likelihood of honest mistakes as well. Nothing good can happen with what this guy is doing, that’s why it’s against the regulations!

      1. JustaTech*

        Ooh, data integrity is a good point. Especially if this is a small startup that’s hoping to make a product that will have to be filed with assorted federal regulators.
        It’s time to turn on all the audit trail software *anyway*, as good business practice, but it’ll also be useful to see what Mr All-Nighter is up to.

        (I had a coworker at an academic lab who came in all day every weekend as far as anyone could tell. He said it was because his wife worked weekends and she would only make him lunch if he was also going in to work. So rather than feed himself, he’d come to the lab. He was also the least efficient, least effective scientist I have ever worked with.)

    3. Cyrus*

      Yeah, I was going to use the phrase “insider threat” but this guy beat me to it. I have to retake about 6 different security trainings annually for my current job and that phrase appears in more than one of them. Working odd hours for little or no reason is on several lists. They don’t JUST mean spy or fraud stuff. Mental instability can be related to an insider threat, and for all you know he’s working on a separate job on the side, which might or might not be a safety concern but your corporate overlords wouldn’t approve.

    4. Cat*

      Nah, I’m sure Jesse and Mr. White can be trusted at the high school chem lab!
      (/j and sorry for wasting space with it lol)

      1. The OG Sleepless*

        Heh, I was thinking more of the scene at the beginning of each season of For All Mankind where Margo is secretly living in her office, but this probably applies better.

    5. amoeba*

      Hm. Not saying this couldn’t be something that happens, but honestly, at least in academic labs, pulling all-nighters is so extremely common that it would at least not be the first thing my mind went to! It’s usually just “OMG I NEED RESULTS CANNOT AFFORD TO SLEEP”….

  13. Cicely*

    “I’m in charge of OSHA compliance and ensuring that we’re following local and federal safety standards.”

    That’s what you adhere to. The guy can complain all he wants to, but is his complaining going to be your excuse if something happens? Will OSHA et al. look the other way because a guy was complaining about your adhering to safety compliance? Are you really so willing to risk your livelihood and future prospects because someone was complaining about your doing your job?

    Ignore his complaints and proceed as you must within the realm of your OSHA responsibilities.

    1. Sherm*

      Same. Although it’s probably not meth (getting jugs of starting material is not exactly easy), the fact that it’s not a busy time at work begs the question: What on earth is he doing there?

      1. Anne Shirley Blythe*

        Exactly. In all seriousness, doesn’t this guy know how suspicious this looks?!

  14. Greta*

    As someone in a data collecting industry, it can be hard to identify errors in the data, especially if they are formatted correct enough. His excuse that it doesn’t matter because he’s not making errors is a straw man.

    It’s easy to transpose numbers and letters or just space when entering data (1123 versus 1723). I’ve come across obvious errors, once I had more data, that should have been caught months ago, but weren’t because of how the data displayed or how little data had been collected (outliers might not actually be outliers or something is an outlier and you don’t have enough info to know that yet.)

  15. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

    I agree this needs to be reported. I’m curious if something is going on at home, and he’s trying to avoid his family for some reason? Doesn’t change the advice, or the dangerousness of what he’s doing, though.

    1. reg*

      yeah i’m wondering if he’s couch-hopping because he lost stable housing for whatever reason. that might explain why he got so kneejerk defensive about it.

      1. I Have RBF*

        If he’s housing insecure/unhoused, that isn’t solved by sleeping in a laboratory. He’s risking unemployment or injury by sleeping in the lab. If he is going into the lab, then your CCTV should show it, and also if he’s not.

        One way to address this is to have key-card access into the lab, and block certain people after hours, or require 2 badges to unlock the door after hours (with a manager and FD override.)

      2. Fieldpoppy*

        This was the case with someone in a (non-lab) I used to work in. He kept his stuff in the rarely used darkroom and slept on the CEO’s couch. It took a while to figure out why « Steve » was always the first one there and the last one out.

  16. Goldenrod*

    “However, sometimes he tells me in a cheeky way, even though he knows I don’t approve.”

    This part stands out to me, negatively. It reveals that he doesn’t quite get it, and also maybe is *proud* of it on some level. Like he sort of wants you to know how hard he works, because he thinks doing this is proof of his hard work and dedication. Which it is not!

    1. Lizzianna*

      This stood out to me too. My agency has limits of how far you can drive every day because of safety concerns. Some employees simply do not listen, and take it as a badge of honor that they can work a 12 hour day and then drive 6 hours to get home, and think they should get a pat on the back for saving us money by not getting a hotel. They assume we’re telling them not to drive that long because we “have to” to have plausible deniability if they do.

      It’s gone as far as me needing to write someone up for insubordination before they understood how serious I was about telling them not to do it.

      Sleep deprivation can create extremely dangerous situations. It’s akin to working drunk, and should be taken as seriously, both from a safety and a quality control perspective.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        Having a micro-sleep while actively handling something hazardous sounds like a really, really terrible idea, and after you’ve been up a certain amount of time, micro-sleeps are involuntary.

        From my own experience, when I’m pushing my own envelope in terms of computer work at home on non-crucial things, when I fall asleep while typing, I start typing garbage. And if I’m typing in arbitrary numbers or strings of letters, how do I tell garbage typing from real results?

    2. Dinwar*

      I wonder how old he is. I’m on the cusp–people older than me took a much more casual view of safety, whereas people younger than me have only really worked in environments with stringent safety requirements (at least compared to what I had). The older people tend to be proud of not being wusses, able to work long days, and not being scared of crap. The younger people tend to point out that they don’t bleed as often and still have all their fingers.

      1. UKDancer*

        I think it depends for age. My great uncle was a safety officer on his site. He was missing 2 fingers from an industrial accident where there wasn’t a knife guard.

        He was diligent about making sure nobody else had the same experience. He wanted his colleagues to go home with all their fingers.

        My grandfather had a colleague die falling off a gas tower because none of them had safety harnesses. It’s one of the reasons he always supported the union seeking better safety. He was very happy when safety harnesses became mandatory.

        I think sometimes watching people hurting can make people more committed to safety.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          The saying “every safety regulation is written in blood” exists for a reason.

          1. I Have RBF*


            In my first job there was a commotion as the safety response team rushed a guy out, with his arm held up over his head, on the way to the ER. He’s gotten his finger smashed/amputated in the tableting press. IIRC he circumvented the guard…

            It really frosts my jets when people of a certain political persuasion start railing against OSHA and health and safety regulations. To me, they are saying that money is always more important than people’s lives, and that tells me what kind of scum they are.

            Some safety rules on the surface may seem silly or overblown. Find out why they were put in place. You may be surprised…

        2. Dinwar*

          There are exceptions, sure. I’ll admit I’m one of them in some cases. It’s just a correlation I’ve seen, and I was curious how far it extended.

    3. Observer*

      This part stands out to me, negatively

      Me too. Arrogant as all get out, in addition to what you said, and that tends to increase the odds of a mistake.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      Yes! I’m sure in the movies this attitude would be handsomely rewarded by the cute girl scientist snuggling up to him as he wins the Nobel, but…not here. He’s trying to ingratiate himself and his actions by acting like a naughty puppy.

    5. JustaTech*

      Yeah, this is what makes me wonder if he’s fresh out of grad school/ academia, where completely unreasonable hours are expected.
      I remember telling a friend who was a post-doc that, since my whole lab had been in at 3am for a timepoint (ugh) our boss was sending us home at lunch to catch up on sleep. She was *amazed* that our boss would not only allow this but actually encourage it, and do it himself.

    6. Enai*

      Yes, it makes me think coworker doesn’t understand that there’s reasons for safety rules beyond “Boss wants it done like this”. If that’s the case, it makes me doubt coworker’s general capacity for prudent behaviour, after all if rules only exist to show the underlings who’s boss, why not make oneself a nice cocktail with hazardous chemicals? Poisoning is a state of mind, just like sleep deprivation…

  17. LawDog*

    If you’re in the US and you report the conduct to your boss – you gain additional valuable protections as a whistleblower.

    Additionally, why put risk on YOU when it’s your coworker who is behaving badly. You’d paid to help reduce safety / risk. Do your job.

  18. Roland*

    You’re in charge of compliance and safety – I think it would be extremely negligent of you NOT to follow up on it.

  19. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I would say its time to revoke his access. Make sure he is not the last one there and make it so that his badge doesn’t work after a certain time.

  20. Coverage Associate*

    I don’t know about worker’s compensation insurance conditions, but turning industrial or commercial space into residential is another safety risk. It’s one thing to know how to evacuate during a work day and another to know how when awoken in the middle of the night.

    Sleeping in rented space not meant for sleeping can be a problem for the lease and fire insurance.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      This is one of the many reasons it’s not “simple” to convert empty office buildings to residental ones.

    2. Marshmallows*

      It’s bananas! Haha. I have had to sleep at work before working in manufacturing during really bad weather, but it was always highly coordinated by our managers and the safety staff on who was staying to cover shifts when people couldn’t get in the next day. In this case it was much safer to do that that leave exhausted people working or make people drive in blizzards. Air mattresses and simple food was brought in and all available offices became sleeping zones.

      There were also a lot of “rules” about not bothering the sleeping people… some were supervisors that would’ve been called at night at home too… so that was a challenge. Haha! It’s just the worst sleepover. It is, however, one of the times that being one of like 3 women onsite was great cuz we didn’t have to fight for showers!

  21. Old Lab Rat*

    I worked in labs for 20+ years and not one place I worked would consider this minor. It is a HUGE safety risk. In fact, every lab I worked in had specific safety protocols prohibiting working alone in labs even if it was during normal work hours. Anytime there was a need for overnight experiments, it was a big deal that required risk assessments, multiple people staying overnight, and a check in protocol with someone not at site. I would say if your company doesn’t have specific policies about this, you should look at implementing something.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      Yep, yep, yep.

      I also have literal decades of lab experience including five of those at a place where I was on the overnight team. We only had four people for overnights.

      You know what happened when three people called out? Nothing. No things happened. Manufacturing shut down.

      One of our sibling sites wasn’t as observant of safety protocols and had a fire that killed someone and blew up half the facility.

      It doesn’t happen until it does.

  22. Garth*

    I would think there would be specific policies and procedures in place for what to do when you encounter a violation. Can you ask your boss for guidance if you’re unsure of exactly what the next step should be?

  23. labsecretsarebadsecrets*

    Your job as a compliance officer is to say something. Tell your boss about this. This is unsafe, dangerous, and sets a terrible precedence. WHEN there is an accident, not IF, and it comes out you knew about this and didn’t alert anyone, you will likely face consequences.

    Rather than say, “oh sorry, won’t happen again.” This coworker shows every indication that they don’t follow the rules, will not follow the rules in future and results are the only thing that matters. Not only is lab safety at risk, lab reputation is also at risk. The fact your coworker has been warned repeatedly not to do this and keeps doing it, and keeps falsifying records to cover his tracks when he does this, is a problem.

    If experiments need to be run on specific cycles, setting the schedule ahead of time to factor those cycles in is what’s needed. This takes away the secrecy and control your coworker has. Please be careful.

  24. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    Think for a minute about how bad you’d feel if he got fired. It suck and you’d feel guilty and he’d have to find another job.

    Then think for a minute about how bad you’d feel if someone came in one morning and found him helpless on the floor, unable to get help after a midnight accident when he was working alone. And you had known it was a safety issue but hadn’t said anything.

    1. Observer*

      And then think about how you would feel if there were an explosion that took out your building, and maybe the buildings around it – and some night staff (probably including relatively low paid cleaners) got hurt or killed.

      I’m not kidding about this. These regs are there for a reason.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Or that he’d caused the deaths/maiming of other people due to violations of protocol.

  25. LabRat*

    As someone in a different branch of the safety biz who’s also worked in a lab… this reads like the section of the accident report talking about pre-existing conditions and accepted practices right before someone gets described as “worker number one”. And a bunch of lab accidents that resulted in fatalities or disabilities began with someone working alone after hours.

    However you approach it, do NOT allow this to continue.

  26. Mme de*

    I wouldn’t use “dude” in a work context. You probably wouldn’t say “babe” if he were a woman.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        My other women friends and I call each other dude all the time and have since forever. I guess it’s in a gray area between just an exclamation and not exactly a nickname?

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      One of those is a term that is often used to sexualize/infantilize women. The other is not.

    2. Parcae*

      What? No. If he were a woman, I’d say “dude.”

      Now, if I were in a formal workplace or an area where “dude” is a gendered form of address, then sure, that’s different. But in either case, no one’s calling anyone babe.

    3. Dinwar*

      My wife has used the word to refer to a chair. Multiple times. In certain regions it’s completely gender-neutral (to the point where there are multiple games making fun of this trend, my wife collects them) and ubiquitous to the point where I’m considered weird for NOT saying it.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Is your wife….Canadian? Because we apologize to furniture when we bump into it and I can entirely see someone saying “Sorry, dude” when bumping into a piece of furniture.

  27. lost academic*

    It’s a huge problem from a safety and a liability standpoint. You absolutely must notify your superiors and you need to do it in writing to cover your own butt. He is doing this with your knowledge and if anything happens, to him or anything related to his work during this activity, there will be a huge legal mess.

    Your superiors are responsible for preventing this from happening and if that means firing him, then it means firing him. If they deliberately choose not to act it is imperative that it be crystal clear, in writing, that you reported it. Don’t do anything to enable it, don’t do anything that suggests you approve of it or encourage it or are looking the other way, and document.

    And yes it’s patently dangerous as well and you know that so I don’t need to harp on it.

  28. jazzy*

    Safety concerns aside, it needs to be addressed that there is so much work and so little staff that someone even CAN work 36 hours straight and still be behind! What I see here is someone who is terrified of getting in trouble for missing a deadline or under performing. He needs to know that there’s just too much to do, and he needs help or more time. And he has to actually receive that. Otherwise you’re just forcing him to fail at his job. Don’t put this guy in an unwinnable situation where he’s either in trouble for safety, or in trouble for not finishing an unrealistic amount of work.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Or he’s intentionally not getting stuff done during the day so he has an excuse to be here alone at night.

      1. jazzy*

        Other option seems more likely to me. Haven’t worked anywhere where people aren’t expected to do too much with too little time to do it well. A lot of us just pull secret overtime so we don’t get in trouble for being late or sloppy… ok in the short term but then they expect the same results and eventually burnout sets in.

  29. Yeesh*

    My biochem teacher told us horror stories about real lab accidents so we would take safety serious. Most involved someone working in the lab alone.

  30. labsafety*

    I have the same job as you, LW, and I speak from nearly a decade of experience handling situations very similar to this one. You absolutely MUST say something, and say it now. Like, today.

    The kind of behavior you’re describing — not only the potential issues with fatigue but also the defensive and dismissive attitude this guy has towards safety concerns being raised and his willingness to lie to keep himself out of trouble — are some of the most common building blocks of catastrophes of all shapes and sizes. Hell, my own institution actually had worker die years ago because they were in a research space alone after hours, and there was no one to help them when an equipment malfunction put their life at risk. People like the guy you’re dealing with do their best to make the issues you’re pointing out seem small, and make anyone who raises a concern feel paranoid and crazy, so they can shame you into silence. But if you study the way lab accidents occur, it’s amazing how often the root cause turns out to be exactly what you’re looking at right now.

    You say you have no authority over this guy, and that’s an additional problem. You can’t be responsible for safety and compliance (i.e., the person who would get in the most trouble if this guy were to get himself hurt or killed!) if you don’t have the authority to make and enforce policies that keep people safe. Or, for that matter, to enforce the use of common effing sense, laws or no laws. If you truly do not have that authority, or if that authority is not respected, you need to have an additional conversation with your boss about that. You have been given a job that literally cannot be done unless the people you are tasked with keeping safe respect what you say and follow your instructions.

    And as Alison often says, even if this guy does get fired, you would not be “getting him fired”. He’d be getting himself fired by behaving this way. Might he still think you’re an asshole? Yep, he will! But that’s the job. And trust me, it’s far less unpleasant than what could happen if you let this go on. Again, I know personally how nerve wracking it can be to speak up in situations like this, even when it’s your whole entire job. But you can and must do it.

    Go talk to your boss, and next time this guy pulls this crap, put your foot down.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      He might think the LW is an asshole but he will be ALIVE to think that.

      That’s all you should care about here, LW. And labsafety is absolutely right in that if you cannot enforce the regulations you don’t have the authority required to be the OSHA officer. This situation requires a hands on meeting with all the higher ups to streamline and clarify who has to listen to you (EVERYONE) about compliance, and when (NOW.)

      1. labsafety*

        Amen to all of this. I tell people all the time you’re free to be mad at me as long as you’re not doing it from the hospital or the morgue.

        Tbh putting an employee in the position of a safety officer without actually giving them explicit authority over anyone reads to me as very sketchy behavior on the part of the higher-ups. I’ve had an employer do that to me before and eventually came to the conclusion that they didn’t actually care about safety at all, they just had to slap a title on somebody to tick a box on a form somewhere. Not saying that’s definitely the case here but it raises a big red flag for me and makes me wonder about the overall, top-down safety culture of this company.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Tbh putting an employee in the position of a safety officer without actually giving them explicit authority over anyone reads to me as very sketchy behavior on the part of the higher-ups.

          Yes, and I’ve been there before. IC, but safety person, with no managerial authority. Fortunately, I was also well respected, and also backed up by my managers, so it worked. We still had people do stuff behind my back.

        2. Anecdata*

          I read the OPs “don’t have authority over” as a “this person doesn’t report to me/I’m not their boss” situation — safety officer and other compliance roles need to have authority to set rules and require compliance from people who don’t report to them, but it’s totally normal for that to take the form of copying in the person’s manager.

          (and for that reason, OP should focus on the safety aspect when they go to the manager — the “might mess up the data” is less their purview)

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yes to all of this. The road to catastrophes often involve a slow erosion of best practices for safety. If everything has always gone fine, it’s easy to get complacent and become less vigilant around safety practices. But those safety practices were built because of horrific things that happened. Labour laws are written in the blood of dead workers. The reason that things have been fine in an organization is because of a commitment to safety; it’s evidence that the rules are working, not that they’re excessive.

  31. Queenie*

    As lab safety officer it is your duty to report this. Before you do, tell the offender that as lab safety officer it is your duty to report it, so either knock it off immediately or you will bring it to the appropriate regulatory agencies.

    1. HonorBox*

      I think the only way that talking to the coworker is helpful is to just say, “Jim, this isn’t following protocols and I’m taking it to boss.” Don’t give them the option to stop, else they’re going to figure out ways to hide it from you too.

    2. CityMouse*

      I think this is a symptom of a huge problem here. Either LW doesn’t have sufficient authority or sufficient training to ensure safety, but it seems like they are potentially listed on licensing or legal documents as the compliance officer.

      LW, you need to figure out what your legal duties and potential liabilities are NOW or you could be in a bad situation if something goes wrong.

      1. WellRed*

        I was thinking this. OP are you just the de facto safety officer because it made sense (like when payroll and HR get lumped together ins small business) or is it part if why you were hired? Do you have full training and understanding of what that entails? Cause to me, it’s obvious you have a duty to address this. If you don’t know that, why? Can you get training, support, clarity etc to do that properly?

        1. Underrated Pear*

          I had the same question. I don’t want to be a jerk to the LW, but when I read “Do I have a legal responsibility here? What about a moral one?” my thought was, “Isn’t it *your job* to know that?”

          I don’t know if the fault lies with the LW or with the organization, but something has gone wrong if the person in charge of compliance doesn’t have a procedure for non-compliance.

          1. OSHA Officer*

            Yeah this is a good point – I was not hired as a safety officer, I was hired as a scientist (this is still my main job), however, we needed someone who could make sure the lab was in compliance with local and federal regulations and that ended up falling on me. It’s a defacto position, not one I was officially trained in, which does complicate things! This comment and a few others have made me realize I need to have a bigger conversation with my boss about the role, it’s requirements, and the resources I need to do it effectively (such as authority to enforce the rules I make).

            1. Agent Diane*

              Or your boss needs to hire someone to be the safety and compliance officer, who is empowered, and let you do the job you were hired to do.

            2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              It definitely sounds like a situation where you’re not set up to succeed, OP. There needs to be someone with actual power to step in and enforce safety rules. Otherwise, they’re really only safety suggestions. And I’ve heard enough stories from a friend who does health and safety in a lab to know that some people need to be actively prevented from doing silly things. Like bringing food into the lab space.

              Wishing you much success in talking to your boss about this and coming to a resolution that works and keeps you and all your colleagues safe!

        2. Grith*

          This happens to some extent in every small company I’ve worked in as a chemist.

          Where there isn’t the budget/workload to hire a dedicated H&S officer, either you ask someone from an office background to do it who then has to learn relevant H&S law AND all relevant chemistry, or you just give it to a Chemist who knows/learns the specific hazards anyway and then only has to learn the law bit. It’s perfectly logical, the company just needs to realise that there’s more to the role than just *knowing* stuff, you also have to know *what do to* about that stuff.

  32. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    Letter Writer, have you considered raising this to your boss from the perspective of seeking their help to make the behavior stop? You don’t need to report this as if it is misconduct (it probably is, but that doesn’t need to be your focus). You can describe the efforts you have made to intervene with this coworker and advise him of lab rules and safety policies, and then report that you believe this is still happening so you are approaching your boss in hopes that they can put a stop to the pattern for good. How your boss chooses to intervene is not your responsibility and you will have done the best you can to focus on the part of this you ARE responsible for.

    1. Observer*

      You don’t need to report this as if it is misconduct (it probably is, but that doesn’t need to be your focus

      I disagree. This *is* misconduct, and the LW cannot and should not soften this in any way whatsoever.

      1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        I was reacting to the LW’s description of their responsibilities, and I think there’s a lot more detail that would be helpful to have. I took away from the letter that the LW doesn’t have much authority to compel this coworker to change his behavior or to formally discipline him, so I assumed that if LW lacks that authority, the shared supervisor very likely does have that authority. When I said that reporting this issue as misconduct need not be the focus, I wasn’t suggesting that LW soften or downplay the seriousness of the issue. I think you are absolutely right about that as well. It may be LW’s call as to whether this practice is permissible under the organization’s rules and policies, but probably does not have the authority or responsibility to issue disciplinary action for those violations (though I could be wrong!), which usually rests with the supervisor.

        To clarify, I was suggesting the LW approach the conversation with their boss (that they are clearly apprehensive about) as a request for assistance and intervention to make the continuing pattern of bad behavior stop. If nothing else, someone with responsibility for OSHA compliance needs to escalate a noncompliant or dangerous practice that they don’t have the authority to directly correct to someone who does have that authority. Whether or not LW frames it as such, I would expect that a competent manage will quickly want to address this as a conduct issue, but the LW’s primary interest is in stopping/correcting noncompliant behavior.

  33. Lucia Pacciola*

    I guess I’m trying to figure out what ” in charge of OSHA compliance and ensuring that we’re following local and federal safety standards” means in this context. Because the way the scenario is presented, LW doesn’t seem to have any actual authority to enforce these things, nor any assigned responsibility to report noncompliance with these things.

    I feel like maybe this is a question that could be answered by LW going to their boss and asking them what “in charge of ensuring” actually means, in terms of formal authority and responsibility.

    1. CityMouse*

      That stuck out to me too, because I was expecting the phrase “I wrote him up” but it maybe doesn’t seem like LW has that authority. In my lab if the safety officer deemed you were in violation, they could yank your access. Now this was academic, but it seems like LW should have more authority than they have.

      1. knitting at the baseball game*

        It is extremely common for safety professionals to not have official authority, and for them to be expected to “influence without authority” to convince people to follow the safety rules.

        1. CityMouse*

          But the fact that they work with OSHA, certainly that means being listed on government firms.

          You should never ever left yourself be given any kind of legal role, be listed on any kind of official form or document, if you do not have the ability to perform the duty. It is absolutely a disaster waiting to happen.

          1. knitting at the baseball game*

            The OP doesn’t say they work with OSHA. They say they are responsible for OSHA compliance. If they are really the safety person for a 10-person lab, there are probably not any safety-related/OSHA government forms.

            1. CityMouse*

              I misspoke but my concern is OP is listed with OSHA as the person responsible f9r safety.

    2. Cinn*

      I was assuming it meant things like documentation of safety sheets, storage zones/amounts, more detailed knowledge of hazards & safety etc. Or at least that’s what is usually involved and the LW never anticipated needed having authority over individuals. But frankly the site should have a policy on this and it should therefore be actionable.

      1. OSHA Officer*

        This is correct, my responsibility was mostly about making sure the environment didn’t pose any violations (think ladder specifications and lockout/tagout systems), I don’t think anyone expected that we would be dealing with personnel violations, which is a problem I will be addressing with my boss.

        1. Cinn*

          Yeah, that’s how they get you. Volunteer/are volunteered for one task/job that then grows and grows as everyone realises just how much is involved.

          I also get how hard it can be to report this stuff. Especially when people respond as if you’re the one being unreasonable for looking after their safety. But your Spidey-senses are going off for a reason, and he’s already started hiding this from his boss so he knows he’s not supposed to be doing it.

          I do hope things go smoothly when you raise this (and I’m sure we all want an update). But when you do I would very much focus on lone working and emergency situations (I mentioned elsewhere about building evac situations when you don’t have an accurate representation of who was in the building). That way you should be able to minimise any defensiveness about his performance. (But then I’m not the best for diplomacy so if others have provided good scripts, use theirs.)

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          All the more reason to be reporting people violating the rules to your boss.

    3. Dinwar*

      “I guess I’m trying to figure out what ” in charge of OSHA compliance and ensuring that we’re following local and federal safety standards” means in this context.”

      My guess is, the company realized they needed one and pulled a name from a hat (essentially, the details of the process may be different). The company I work for does the same thing, though they give us training first. I often wear this hat, not because I like it but because no one else wants it.

      Mostly it amounts to doing paperwork. Maintaining logs, doing safety meetings, occasionally dong inspection check-lists, that sort of thing. Nothing that would scream “I’m a professional safety officer”–because you’re not, you’re a geologist or engineer or chemist or whatever who happens to be doing the safety officer’s job. It’s good, in that the person is familiar with the processes and knows what’s actually important; it’s bad, because our background in industrial safety is a class, a few online modules, and “I know a guy who did that, we call him Stumpy now.”

  34. HannahS*

    Oof, yes, report it to your boss. The CDC says that being awake for 24h is roughly equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.10%–that’s above the legal driving limit.* So yeah, if he was drunk enough that he couldn’t drive home, should he be working alone with hazardous chemicals and doing sensitive experiments? No. It is objectively a workplace safety issue, and it well within your purview to make him stop. As in, it stops TODAY. His justification that he hasn’t made mistakes yet is irrelevant–I get the sense that you know that your role is to prevent harm, not wait until it happens. So loop in your boss.

    *In other news, I regularly work 26-hour shifts as a resident physician and yes, some people claim that they’re totally fine, and mostly they’re wrong. As someone who also doesn’t drink, I see a fascinating phenomenon where people who are clearly tipsy will tell me that “a single drink doesn’t change me at all!” when they are clearly wrong. So his insight is probably limited, and ultimately doesn’t change your next steps.

    1. Observer*

      In other news, I regularly work 26-hour shifts as a resident physician and yes, some people claim that they’re totally fine, and mostly they’re wrong.

      Not just “mostly”. They are always 100% wrong. Every study I’ve seen that purports to show otherwise is badly designed (sometimes in ways obviously intended to get the desired outcomes.)

    2. HannahS*

      Oh, and OP, please, please, PLEASE protect yourself and your career. Document, in writing, what’s going on–don’t rely on verbal agreements and meetings. Document what is happening, when you found out about it, when you spoke with the employee, and what his response was. Email it to your supervisor, and save their response. Forward it to your personal email.

      In the worst case scenario, this guy will kill himself or someone else, and you can BET that you will have to defend yourself if something goes wrong. I work in academic medicine, which is its own beast, but I always tell students and junior residents the following (except when I say it has more swear words):
      If something is your responsibility, nothing else matters; you will be called to defend yourself if you don’t live up to your responsibility. The hospital doesn’t care about you–they will throw you under the bus to save themselves. The university doesn’t care about you. Our regulatory body doesn’t care about you. The ONLY people who care about you are the malpractice insurers, because you pay them to care about you. You have to protect yourself, because no one else will do it.

      If you want a cautionary tale, look at what happened with the Rust on-set shooting. “Everyone” knew that safety procedures weren’t being followed, and yet it wasn’t stopped, and now someone is dead.

      I hope you’ll write back with an update. Sending you strength!

    3. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      This week I saw an article going around with a disreputable clickbait headline, but the actual kernel of truth inside it was that while people who have been awake for 48 hours are generally aware that they are not doing great, people with 28 hours of sleep debt over 2 weeks perform as badly as the 48 hours awake people, but claim that they’re doing just fine.

    4. Swix*

      Tired people absolutely can’t accurately judge their level of impairment.

      A few years ago I developed a chronic illness that comes with fatigue as a major symptom (all day every day exhausted). I was dragging myself into work and telling people I was fine to drive.

      With the benefit of hindsight and some better treatment, there was no way I was fine to drive, but I was too tired to realize that.

  35. Union Rep*

    In addition to the compliance issues everyone else has raised, a union employer where the safety officer wasn’t enforcing the agreed-upon policies would almost certainly be in violation of the collective bargaining agreement. Safety language in CBAs is often much more stringent than the law, because it’s negotiated by people who actually see the problems on a worksite and can be severely injured or killed if the employer cuts corners. Depending on the language, other workers might be entitled to refuse to report until the lab had been checked and you were sure this guy hadn’t done anything to put his colleagues at risk. And my counterpart would be kicking down OP’s boss’s door to ask when OP’s replacement was starting.

    1. Union Rep*

      ETA: Sometimes the safety officer is part of the union, in which case they still wouldn’t be safety officer any more if anyone found out about this.

  36. Essentially Cheesy*

    I don’t want to be critical or needlessly harsh on coworker but this is strange behavior.

    When data creation is a top priority, it’s appropriate to schedule staff accordingly and spread the workload across the department. Not only is it strange but very inappropriate and dangerous.

    Don’t be scared to say something, LW, and assert your OSHA leader authority. This will not lead to anything good if left unattended.

  37. RagingADHD*

    I just kind of wonder why you’re more worried about being “the asshole” for getting him in trouble, as opposed to being worried about him getting hurt or hurting someone else.

    Data errors are not the only kind of mistakes you make when you’re tired. You leave things where they should not be. You mix up items. You leave equipment set up haphazardly. You run out of things and forget to restock or request more. Not to mention that it makes you less coordinated so you’re more likely to drop, spill, or trip.

    He’s just as likely to leave a hazard for the person who comes in after him, as he is to have an accident while he’s there.

    1. Underrated Pear*

      This is such an important framing. In trying to protect this one employee, LW, you could jeopardize yourself/your job, the safety of other members of the lab, and possibly members of the public who would be impacted by any errors that occur, directly or indirectly, from this person’s actions. Reporting him is definitely the less “asshole” move.

  38. Kat*

    Isn’t this what happened with the major case of fraud from like 7 years back? I want to say it was in Boston. The researcher kept working at odd hours because she was falsifying data. It’s a major concern in my eyes.

    1. CityMouse*

      I don’t know full details but one of our grad student TAs got fired for faking data and he was doing something similar.

    2. Nesprin*

      There was at least one case at my smaller PhD program of a grad student coming in in the wee hours to spit in another grad student’s sterile cultures.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Wasn’t it a lab that regularly ran fingerprints and other evidence tests for several police departments, and they had to go back years and basically redo all the convicted people’s trials?

        1. Genevieve en Francais*

          Yup! The Annie Dookhan was in MA. Although in her case she was also producing an astronomical amount of data compared to what everyone else was doing in the same amount of time. Her superiors were definitely just looking the other way.

          Source: I had just started working for some criminal defense attorneys when it all came out. I had to go back through the paper files of every single drug case we had for years, see if it may have been affected, and attempt to track down that former client. It was wild. And really effing annoying.

  39. HonorBox*

    While we see some situations in which “mind ya business” is the correct course of action, this is not one of those situations. You not only know that something is going on that could be detrimental to outcomes of the research you’re part of, you also have a higher level of authority because you oversee some safety standards. Because you know this has been addressed in the past, too, and the coworker has been instructed not to do this, yet continues, it is definitely time to have a clear conversation with your boss. You’re not “tattling” on your coworker. You’re protecting the integrity of your work and the safety of your lab.

  40. CityMouse*

    As the OSHA compliance officer they really needs to give you more teeth or a clear procedure when violations occur. You should be able to give formal warnings.

  41. Dinwar*

    As I understand it anything >10 hrs/day requires approval by the safety officer and manager, and nothing over 14 hours can be approved. Exceptions can be made for things like 24 hour tests (where you HAVE to be present), but not routine tasks.

    My understanding is that HAZMAT doesn’t change that much. I routinely work with compressed gasses, preservatives, haz waste, etc., but the same rules apply to asphalt crews and concrete crews. That said, they do create unique hazards, and sleep deprivation is notorious for making people make bad choices. Some of the lab equipment I’ve worked with could easily become a bomb (had at least one really, really bad scare due to that).

    If this were me, I’d call a safety stand-down. Shut everything down and hold a meeting saying “Look, I understand this isn’t everyone’s ideal, but these are the rules, and I don’t want one of you morons getting yourselves killed, I don’t like you enough to deal with the paperwork.” (It’s a running joke on my jobsite.) And to be clear, I’m talking a three hour meeting with as many of the big bosses as you can get; this meeting needs to be painful. The guy is flagrantly flaunting safety regs, after all. I’d also be curious to see what other regs he’s not following. I’ve never seen someone who is this flagrant about ignoring a big one that doesn’t have a few other safety violations that are flying under the radar. A few random audits may be in order.

    I also would loop in the boss. First, if this worker doesn’t straighten up he needs to be gone. Sucks for him, sure, but sometimes someone makes themselves an object lesson. Second, the “not clocking hours” thing is really, really bad. If you have federal contracts that will bite you hard. At least on the contracts I’ve worked under, this is flat-out no questions illegal. This can result in jail time and loss of ability to compete on future contracts (for most small labs, that means you go bankrupt). You are one floor audit away from losing your job because this guy doesn’t like the rules.

    The thing to bear in mind here is that you have teeth. The reason you have this role is so that the company discovers this stuff internally and call tell the regulators “We are aware of the issues and are working diligently to bring everyone into compliance.” The alternative is for OSHA to discover this–and at this point you’ll be saying “Yeah, we knew about it, but didn’t think it was a big deal.” That’s not great for your long-term career prospects, to say the least.

    Ultimately that’s the question: Is this guy worth losing your job and possibly career for? That you’re asking the question means the answer is a resounding no.

    1. RagingADHD*

      “I’d also be curious to see what other regs he’s not following. I’ve never seen someone who is this flagrant about ignoring a big one that doesn’t have a few other safety violations that are flying under the radar. A few random audits may be in order.”

      This is an excellent point.

  42. Username required*

    You may not be in charge of him but you are in charge of OSHA compliance – doesn’t that mean it’s literally your job to report that type of unsafe employee behaviour to management. How did they address this kind of situation in your training for the role? This sounds like an accident waiting to happen and it won’t just be your employee that get’s the fallout if something goes wrong – you knew it was happening and didn’t report it. Is he worth losing your job over?

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Is it worth bankrupting yourself with court/attorney fees if you have to defend yourself if this guy causes an accident?

      If your name is under OSHA compliance you’d better be able to make people comply or you are risking a lot.

  43. YetAnotherFedContractor*

    1) Safety regulations are written in blood
    2) go search Chemical and Engineering News for laboratory safety or laboratory accidents
    3) insider threat/sabotage/faking results is another good point
    4) report his ass in writing as set forth above

    1. Observer*

      Safety regulations are written in blood

      LW, that sounds dramatic. But it’s true. Just about every safety regulation exists because people (generally quite a few) have died because of whatever it is.

      Whether it’s rules about having exits, ventilation, work hours, *anything*.

      All of the other issues are true. But if you are thinking about the moral imperative, you NEED to keep this in mind. This is not people being “picky”.

  44. HotPriestess*

    This is fascinating to me because I LEFT the physical sciences and academia because of pressure to stay overnight and work on little to no sleep. I spent many overnights alone in a creepy basement working with bacteria and chemicals and having the lights turn off on me. There were lists of which coffee shops opened earliest so that the overnighters could run out and grab breakfast. This was about 15 years ago at one of the leading Chemistry Departments in Canada. Safety was SO lax (granted – I was lax about it too).

    1. ViridianGreen*

      Right? It reads like it’s coming out of a different world. Just me, and the samples, and the mice (not a bio lab, the building just had mice in it).

      Makes me pretty optimistic about my post-grad-school work-life balance.

      1. OSHA Officer*

        This is exactly why I wrote in actually. A lot of the comments have been people saying “OBVIOUSLY you have to report him!” (and I do think they’re right) but we all come from academia where this kind of thing is normal so I was having a lot of trouble figuring out if I was being unreasonable.

        1. wavefunction*

          If you all come from academia, I can see how easy it would be to happen. Going into industry is a major culture change (assuming your company is responsible about safety). I strongly prefer the work/life balance and adherence to safety standards in industry. No company wants to get sued or be responsible if someone is injured or is working overtime illegally.

        2. ViridianGreen*

          I think because your boss isn’t okay with it, that makes it pretty clear? It sounds like they’re telling you that it’s not normal here.

          IDK, I feel like a lot of the point of OSHA is to give employees better worker protections than grad students get.

          1. Cinn*

            Wait, are academia labs not also covered by OSHA? (From UK, so my knowledge of US safety law is… patchy.)

            1. ViridianGreen*

              My understanding is that it’s a bit fuzzy and depends specifically on the location. But OSHA is specifically meant to protect *employees*, and graduate students are often not employees.

              So stuff like “you need a MSDS” is 100% necessary because other people are working in the lab, but they miss “You can’t work for 36 hours straight”, because legally they can argue that in that situation grad students are acting in their capacity as students and not as employees of the university…

              (As far as I can tell, whether a grad student is an employee or a student at any given time is pretty much 100% determined by what will screw them over the most.)

    2. jazzy*

      Yep, sometimes there’s this unspoken cultural expectation to overwork despite safety regulations, and people who are “rule followers” are pushed out or made fun of or end up disciplined for not getting their work done because you’d HAVE to pull all-nighters to meet the deadlines set.

  45. Observer*

    Tell your boss. It’s not just that he is putting himself at risk. He’s putting the lab at risk. And he’s putting the public at risk.

    You absolutely have a moral duty to report, and almost certainly a legal requirement. Even if it’s not formal and explicit, if something happens, you will be facing legal and career repercussions.

    And, if he gets fired it will not be YOU that “got him fired”. It would be his own stupid and irresponsible behavior that did the trick.

  46. spiriferida*

    For the record, I’ve worked in lab environments for 10 years now and I just jerked back in my chair in horror reading this.

    No no no no no. Oh no, LW. 36 hours?! Get him out of there! This absolutely needs to go to your boss. I can just imagine the accident investigation report and it will be absolutely scathing. He is putting literally everyone in your lab at risk with this behavior. You absolutely need to get him to stop doing that. You need to make it clear to your boss and to him that it’s non-negotiable.

    Honestly, it probably shouldn’t have gotten to that point during the crunch period to begin with. His ego doesn’t matter here – he can get sulky and hurt all he likes, but you can’t let this continue. If he is solely responsible for some of your procedures that require him to be monitoring something continuously over the span of that 36 hours, then something needs to change, but you and your bosses need to be on top of that, and there need to be procedures in place for planning that coverage appropriately.

    1. spiriferida*

      Following up to say, LW: If you are in charge of OSHA compliance and safety, then part of your job is being the killjoy and the hardass. Which can suck, but it’s important! Safety is your problem, and it is your responsibility to make it everyone else’s problem.

  47. Lenora Rose*

    1: Safety requires people not work alone in industries a lot less dangerous than chemical lab work. if the law doesn’t, internal policy almost certainly does. This is textbook unsafe workplace behaviour and as noted above, those regulations cost lives.

    2: Most data collection standards demand a witness to the numbers – usually real time. This is true in the US and Canada. I worked in a pharmaceutical manufacturer that had locations on both sides of the border and EVERYTHING needed witnessing. This is because even the most absolutely perfect employee doing data entry will make mistakes, and mistakes can be hard to catch just looking at numbers when nobody else was there to see actions. It’s true a single small lab might not have the same legal standards as a large scale company with government contracts in at least two different countries, but the underlying principle is sound.

    3: Fraud. Enough said.

    4: See comments above about using commercial properties as a residence and insurance

    5: I do suspect that laws are likely being broken, but that is location dependent.

  48. Ruthy Sue*

    I’ve worked in safety for 20 years so i can speak to the regulatory part. You’re not going to find a OSHA regulation that specifically says you can’t work alone overnight. However, for your chemical hygiene (lab safety) plan, and also for your emergency action plan there should be protocols for working around chemicals and responding to emergencies. Generally those company-established plans will require at least 2 people when working around hazardous chemicals. If you have solitary workers, there should be a solitary worker plan that outlines what they are to do in an emergency (hourly check-ins with security, certain chemicals can’t be used when alone, who can be called to come in off-hours to help, etc.). There may be ways to put safeguards in to make that solitary work safe, but sounds like it may not be in place now.

    Also, there is generally no legal responsibility or liability for you as an individual safety person. For OSHA, that falls to the employer. It’s rare they can even pawn that off on the employee that broke the rules. If something goes terribly wrong (like a fatality), it’s typically supervisors or management that could be personally held responsible – and it definitely won’t be you. Your duty is to report concerns to management, follow-up, but ultimately it’s their responsibility to either empower you to fix it, or fix it themselves.

    1. Observer*

      . If something goes terribly wrong (like a fatality), it’s typically supervisors or management that could be personally held responsible – and it definitely won’t be you.

      That’s just not true. Sure, *technically* you are probably correct. In practice? Nope. The OP is absolutely going to be in the line of poop that comes flying. They will probably win any criminal cases against them, and also probably any civil liabilities. But at what cost?

      Give a look at Boeing safety issues for a high profile example of the way someone can get scapegoated.

  49. H.Regalis*

    Am I an asshole if I tell our boss, potentially getting him [coworker] fired?

    Your coworker is potentially getting himself fired. He’s the one choosing to do this despite repeatedly being told not to and why.

    Also, running on zero sleep for long periods of time makes you more likely to make mistakes. Unless your coworker is literally not human—like this is Star Trek and he’s an android—there’s no, “Well, that doesn’t happen to me because I’m Just So Fucking Special” clause in the safety regulation requirements.

  50. Hrodvitnir*

    Oh boy. It is so common for wet lab people to work late/alone in academia, and resent working anywhere they’re not allowed.

    But 36 hours in a row? Good god, they are a special kind of idiot. Most of the people pulling this even in postgrad don’t *need* to be 99% of the time, but they sure like martyring themselves.

    Absolutely this can and should be shut down (and the best way to break the habit even in more mild cases is to enforce firmly and early).

  51. EmmaPoet*

    “I’m in charge of OSHA compliance”

    Given this, if I was your supervisor and found out that you knew about him pulling this and didn’t say anything, I would be looking at demoting or firing you. His desire to do things his way doesn’t mean he gets to break the rules, and telling him he has to comply isn’t micromanaging him. Go to your boss ASAP and tell them what’s going on.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      I should add that he would also be fired in this case, not just the LW, but they need to think about their own wellbeing and CYA here rather than cover for Lab Napper.

  52. Angstrom*

    The noncompliance with instructions is a huge red flag here.

    On the practical side: IF there is a valid reason for anyone to work alone, especially after hours, consider an emergency call button system. We had those at a previous job — anyone working alone was required to wear one of the call buttons, which would summon outside help when activated.

  53. wine dude*

    If I was running a lab that dealt with hazardous things, I would have video cameras all over those places where those things were being used. I’d want them so that if something did go wrong, we would have video to help establish what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. Video cameras would also record his comings and goings. Do you not have video cameras?

    1. Dinwar*

      You probably wouldn’t, really. A lot of “hazardous” stuff is pretty innocuous. A lot of the hazardous stuff we deal with is things like spilled oil (if it’s not spilled it’s not hazardous), or compressed gasses (safe enough if you handle them correctly), or spent batteries stacked three high instead of two high (at 2 high it’s universal waste). I’m not saying this stuff can’t be dangerous, I’m just saying that even a lab handling hazardous stuff isn’t routinely (or even generally) handling bubbling green liquids. (I know this, because I sent a sample of detergent to a lab once [yeah…it was weird] and they flipped out. Called like four people trying to figure out why we were sending something this toxic to them.)

      Plus, you’d be surprised how tight the budget is when dealing with hazardous materials. At least in environmental, no one wants to pay for it (we’re just cheaper than the fines) so they put as little money into it as they can. I simply don’t have money for webcams in all the areas where we process hazardous material. My office deals with this by a sign-in/sign-out procedure and the honor system. Screw up and you’re booted from the site.

      I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do what you’re saying. It’s just, we can’t.

  54. Dante's Disco Inferno*

    Back in the day when I worked in a biolab (luckily not as the safety officer), one of our colleagues worked 36-72 hours. Sadly, she had undiagnosed bipolar disorder that was causing the unrelieved work stretches.
    But she completely contaminated the lab with I125; we all had to be treated and monitored for months.

    1. M2RB*

      oh my GOD.

      I used to work in the accounting department at a radiopharmaceutical company. Our office was attached to one of the pharmacies where they compounded the drugs for local hospitals/clinics. I can only imagine the chaos that ensued!!!

  55. Lady_Lessa*

    I’m a chemist, and the idea of being alone in a lab scares me. At a previous job, where I worked in a locked lab (formulation secrets), I got in the habit of checking in with my boss who was in a different part of the building when I arrived. That actually turned out as a nice way to touch base about projects etc.

    And our stuff wasn’t that hazardous, mainly hot wax burns, or skin issues.

    I’d report the guy immediately, if not yesterday.

  56. NotARealManager*

    You are the safety officer. This is unsafe behavior. You have to notify your manager.

    Of less, but still large, concern: I work a normal 9-5 office job and make data entry errors all the time (and correct them of course). Most people do. He is almost definitely making more than usual and not catching his errors because you can’t be detail-oriented enough after 36 hours without sleep. Even after 18 hours without sleep things start to get sloppy.

  57. Massive Dynamic*

    I used to work with someone who did this – not in a lab, but in a warehouse with controlled substances. Unfortunately it was indicative of an out-of-control drug problem that he had developed. But thankfully he went to rehab and turned his life around (after getting fired from that job).

  58. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

    LW, if you report this and this coworker gets fired, you may be saving his life as well as other people’s. There’s a chance (even if it’s a small one) that getting fired would teach him that he can’t get away with ignoring safety protocols. That would unambiguously be a positive outcome for him.

  59. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

    One other thing worth mentioning is that sleep deprivation directly impairs your ability to tell how impaired you are. So even if this coworker truly believes that he isn’t making mistakes when he’s working on 30+ hours without sleep, he is in a terrible position to evaluate that.

    1. H.Regalis*

      Seriously. I have a friend who has insomnia and has driven to her job while basically asleep. She’s also lost time and come back to consciousness with her car being in the middle of a corn field. She insists she’s fine driving when she’s been up for 24-72 hours straight. No one else is buying it.

      1. wavefunction*

        Sure, I was in the middle of the corn field after blacking out, but I’m fully functional! I don’t see any problems here! That’s kind of an impressive level of self-delusion.

        Genuinely though, driving extremely sleep-deprived ranks very high on the list of things I regret most because the only reason no one died or was injured was luck. (There’s other things I regret but none of them could have resulted in death!) I did it a lot as a teenager but never would again.

        1. H.Regalis*

          Same :/ It’s something I’ve done rarely, and I’ve been lucky, but it’s so goddamn dangerous and I could have hurt or killed other people.

          My friend fortunately works from home for the time being, which I am extremely glad for given her insomnia; but it still concerns me (and her husband) that she thinks she’s good to drive after being awake for 48 hours straight.

  60. Anon for this*

    OP please address this today.
    I used to work in a place where we had a death in our research lab as a worker decided to stay by themselves after hours.
    There was a spill / fumes and the worker was found the next morning by coworkers who didn’t know they had stayed (against the rules).
    They are potentially endangering their life.
    Due to the circumstances there was a coroner’s investigation and our lab lead and H&S officer were on the stand and practices were looked at in great detail.

  61. Have you had enough water today?*

    I don’t know OPs specific location, but where I live the law states that WHS is the responsibility of EVERYONE & if you see a hazard you are legally obligated to do something about it. This may be saying something to the individual or their supervisor, it may be stopping the job & using a lock out tag to force a stop, it may even be as extreme as contacting the safety authority that governs your state/country. Failure to take action can result in hefty fines & even prison if someone dies & it can be proven that you were aware of the dangerous situation & did nothing about it.

  62. Hiring Mgr*

    I wonder if LW has had any training in this, or if because it’s only a ten person office it’s all informal. It sounds like they could use some clarification or the company overall needs to take it more seriously

    1. knitting at the baseball game*

      This! So often – especially at a small company and even more especially in a small lab – safety responsibilities get assigned to whoever is newest/has the perceived bandwidth to take it on, rather than because they have any training or experience.

    2. Marshmallows*

      If they’re actually governed by OSHA I do wonder if they’re just a small location in a bigger company. OSHA rules don’t kick in until a certain number of employees. If it’s like a big corp with a bunch of small labs they likely already do have work alone policies.

  63. Alyssum*

    I’m not from the US but in 5 seconds I was able to do a search on OSHA and working alone. There are no laws against working alone. However, there are laws saying that the employer has to account for each employee if they are working alone.

    Working alone overnight without following any established safety working alone rules is a violation of OSHA. So it is definitely within LW’s OSHA compliance duties.

  64. Anonymous Koala*

    If your company ever hopes to submit the results of your research to any sort of regulatory authority this is the kind of thing that would set off a huge red flag during your compliance inspection. Plus you and your colleagues may not have the time to spot errors in data created during a sleepless night, but regulatory bodies that see hundreds of similar data sets will definitely put in that time and it’ll be a huge headache for your company if something gets flagged at that stage.

  65. A woman never gets a break*

    Likely a code violation, definitely a safety violation , and very suspicious for falsification of data, illegal activity, or sabotage. Your manager needs a heads up with a paper trail. Nothing good is happening here.

  66. AG*

    H in OSHA stands for (occupational) Health. 36 hour shifts, sometimes with no naps, is an occupational health risk. That’s not even getting into what kind of safety issues there are. He might simply be in the same room as a gas cylinder, or he might be changing out a cylinder. Either way, I can’t think of any kind of work that would be safe to do 20 hours into a shift, let alone 36.

    There have been deaths in labs where people were working alone. There have been deaths due to exhaustion. Do you think you’d be wrong to report to your manager that your coworker might die?

  67. Raida*

    I’d assume for a lab you’ve got access cards/codes?

    You can show the boss your “analysis of building entry/exits” and that there’s one outliers in total, average, etc outside of ‘normal working hours’, ‘hours in building outside of normal working hours’, ‘number of exits outside of normal working hours’

    That’s handy from a management perspective, to be able to say “We’re fine with staff having all-hours access. There’s a reasonable about of early/late we’d expect to see. There’s a reasonable amount of weekend entry/exits for just ten minutes we’d expect to see. This indicates attendance far in excess of what is reasonable.”

  68. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    You must tell your boss immediately, because they have both the power and the responsibility to deal with this situation. They may well not fire him, just give a stern final warning.

    If the boss finds out somehow before you do this, StupidGuy will likely throw you under the bus to try to save his own job e.g. claim he thought it was OK because he’d told you several times.
    If there is an accident, the subsequent investigation will likely find you knew of his risky behaviour. And you will feel like shit anyway.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Dang, I didn’t even think about him potentially throwing the LW under the bus, but it is plausible. Dude is fine with lying about other stuff, so why not this?

  69. Starbuck*

    “He has been told multiple times that he isn’t allowed to do this, so he he tries to keep it a secret. ”

    All your 1, 2, 3, questions about whether it’s a big deal or not seem kind of irrelevant. There’s only one question – why hasn’t the safety officer already reported the blatant safety violation that everyone knows isn’t supposed to be happening?

    You don’t need to be working harder than he is to protect his job. He’s breaking the rule and trying to keep it a secret, but is telling you? Clearly he’s not that worried people might find out.

  70. An academic*

    There was another comment here that asked if the person recently came from academia. I’m wondering that too. Some PIs push people to work all night without, you know, actually saying anything about it being a requirement. In my program, there was a grad student who needed to do something like take pictures of embryos every 3 hours for 2 days straight as they were developing, so they set up a cot in the microscopy room and put up a sign on the outside that said, “Estudiante esta dormiendo” so the night cleaning staff wouldn’t disturb them. The PI took a picture of this sign and bragged about it at the student’s defense.

    1. Anonymous Chemist*

      I hate this side of academic science. I had to endure similar stuff for my undergrad, and it’s so dangerous. It’s starting to fall by the wayside but the number of “old-school” instructors that have refused to retire from academic work makes it slow going. My graduate work was much more modernized and actively discouraged this sort of thing, which led to better educational and scientific outcomes. It’s akin to the kind of hazing that medical residents commonly used to go through (and some still do). It leads to worse outcomes for everyone and it needs to stop.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      Why EVER would you make that a job for one person only? Even if it’s their own project, there’s no reason someone else couldn’t come in and take a picture once or twice for them.

      Some of my undergrad required monitoring and maintaining fires at certain temperatures overnight. NOBODY was ever obliged to do this alone. Overall, everyone signed up for 2 hours here and there (folks who lived on campus were more likely to sign up for 3 Am than folks across town, but every shift had to have at least 2 people, ideally more), the extra dedicated might take longer stretches but it was always a few people, and it was an excuse to hang out together in a mini-party, drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, and occasionally check the temperature markers, open the door and add wood if it was the wood fire, and turn the gas on, up, down, or off, if it was the gas fire. (Generally the only thing you needed to do with the electric was make sure the “too high” temperature marker wasn’t reacting; unless it was and you had to manually correct, the machine auto shut off at peak temperature.)

      And the professor/educator or technician for the building would often be doing a part of it.

  71. Marshmallows*

    I’ve gotta say… I’ve enjoyed seeing “the science side of AAM” on here today!

  72. Jane and Michael Banks*

    I wonder if this guy is unhoused and covering up his overnights in the lab as “work-related.”

  73. Office Drone*

    Is there some reason the lab apparently isn’t locked at night to everyone except those who have reason to be there (such as the people collecting middle-of-the-night data)? If this guy has been told he can’t be in the lab overnight, then his badge access should be adjusted to reflect the hours he’s allowed on site and whoever locks up should be certain no unauthorized people are still in the lab at closing.

    In my last job, we didn’t work with hazardous materials AT ALL, and we were sometimes all but chased from the building by closers anxious to leave for the day.

  74. Anonymous Chemist*

    I literally never comment on this site (or in general) but this is so bad. Just reading this letter made me queasy.

    OP, I work in a lab similar to what you describe and we are absolutely under no circumstances allowed to work without a “safety buddy” in the lab. We are NOT allowed to work in the analytical or clean rooms alone. The only time we can sorta fudge it is if we are only in the lab office doing paperwork at the end of shift, but absolutely no chemical handling is allowed. Not even “innocuous” chemicals, because if something happens and you can’t reach the phone – well, you get the point. If this coworker has a science degree, they should know better. Please please please speak up, number one because it’s the right thing to do, and number two because it’s a massive liability if someone at your company knows about this and doesn’t act to stop it. If you have a handbook that outlines safety policies (which you should, and they should also be documented in any SOPs you use), point to that. The sleep issue can be nebulous but working alone in a lab is a huge no-no, cut and dried, no exceptions. Please speak up before something bad happens. Please. This is how preventable deaths happen.

  75. OvernightInAcademia*

    Is this an academic lab? It was absolutely normal for grad students to work until 2-3-4 in the morning or sometimes all night when I was in grad school.

    My department had a large grad student lounge with 15-20 sofas and relatively comfortable chairs that folks could nap on if they wanted and a small women’s lounge that locked that the handful of female staff, faculty, and grad students all could use 24/7 with another two sofas + a private bathroom (toilet/sink).

    My school was in a really bad neighborhood of a major city and it was safer to stay. On an average night maybe 15-20% of the students would stay overnight, but during busy periods it could be as high as 75%

    I’ve talked to people from other schools and, while this wasn’t normal everywhere, it wasn’t uncommon at top tier urban research universities in the 80s and 90s (I have limited info beyond that, although I know one person who frequently stayed overnight at MIT in the early 2000s).

    When I was an undergraduate at a different urban school facilities were available 24/7 for grad students and faculty but not undergrads. I periodically stealthily stayed late to complete the research for my senior honors thesis.

    In all these cases, except when using the graduate student lounge, even if there were other people inside the same cavernous building, there rarely were other people in the lab or study area or classroom or office each person was using. Some of the spaces had radioactive materials, chemicals, liquid nitrogen or liquid helium, and other materials require careful/special handling, although in general they were not being used overnight and many had extra controls on them (locked storage cases, etc).

    1. RagingADHD*

      Well, I think if it were completely normal in this context, the boss would not have told the coworker multiple times that he wasn’t allowed to do it.

      1. OvernightInAcademia*

        It was more that the employee may not internalize instructions not to do it right away or take the warnings seriously if it was an environment in which they thought staying overnight was normal or where doing so had been trained into the process. It can be hard to internalize directions that go against a norm that’s become instinctual.

        Of course, the employee should still do so and obey local rules, just saying I could see it taking some time to break ingrained habits, especially if in the same type of environment that normalized the behavior in the first place

        1. RagingADHD*

          Habits are automatic patterns that one falls into without realizing it.

          This person is actively taking steps to falsify their work logs by working off the clock and otherwise hide the fact that they are staying overnight. That’s not an ingrained habit. It’s a deliberate choice.

  76. Link*

    You say you’re in charge of safety and OSHA compliance, yet you also say you have no authority to do, what in this case I would say is, your duty. I’m starting to think you’re just there to take the fall if something goes sideways.

    If you can’t demand your coworker follow policy and safety guidance, and subsequently have disciplinary action taken against him for breaking said things, you’re nothing but a figurehead and a patsy.

    1. Dinwar*

      “I’m starting to think you’re just there to take the fall if something goes sideways.”

      This is exactly what the safety officer hat is for on a lot of construction sites! Why do you think the safety plans are so huge? It’s not to be thorough–it’s so that when someone gets hurt they can say “Well you didn’t follow the guidelines clearly spelled out on Page 726 of Appendix B.3 to the Fact Sheet included by reference on page 2,872 in the revised version of the safety plan.” Never mind the fact that that guideline says “Use industry standard practices” and doesn’t give any real guidance (which means obviously anyone who gets hurt isn’t using industry standard practices).

      Don’t get me wrong, safety is important. But after seeing multiple people injured on the job and blamed for their injuries because of exactly the sort of “reasoning” I just gave, I tend to be a tad cynical. Safety officers are like HR–they’re not your friend, their first loyalty is to the company. Granted, 95% of the time doing what’s best for the company means keeping everyone safe (the laws are designed to create that incentive). It’s that 5% that bites you in the back pocket.

      1. Bruce*

        My brother in law injured his shoulder heaving kegs around at the brewery, while he was spending 2 years fighting to get his disability approved so he could pay for the surgery they assigned him lighter duties… one of them was to be the “Safety Officer”

  77. LabRatInChief*

    Your coworker was explicitly told not to do this and is doing it anyway. He is either hiding something or has an oppositional personality disorder.
    I manage a small research lab as well. I had an employee who was working alone after hours and on weekends, despite being told not to do so. Turns out to be alcoholism that they were trying to hide from family by drinking at work.
    Tell your manager.

  78. Molly Millions*

    This might be paranoid, but I find it suspicious that he seems to be going out of his way to inform you, the compliance person (“in a cheeky way”), when he knows he’s violating the rules. It feels like he’s trying to set you up as the scapegoat if he gets caught or something goes wrong (“But I told OSHA Guy I was going into the lab!”)

    This guy does not seem to have your best interests at heart, don’t jeopardize your job for his.

  79. Just another scientist*

    I hate to say it, but is That Guy maybe falsifying the results of his unwitnessed lab work?
    Very sadly, this sometimes is a thing in research, I’ve seen it happen. Another reason I left academia.

  80. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Agree with Allison that this a health and safety/liability nightmare, and you need to let the CEO know right away! If your insurance provider found out someone was alone in the building OOH (out of hours), you would be in deep doo-doo just for that, never mind that your job involves toxic/hazardous materials! This guy is a liability and needs to be stopped ASAP.

  81. Holly.*

    Re Lone working – I used to work in labs and one day a colleague managed to fall off the bottom step of a step ladder and break both wrists. Fortunately another colleague was there, and got him to hospital.

    Seriously, lone working should be banned, and where it is unavoidable, there should be a formal procedure for other people to check in regularly with the lone worker.

  82. danmei kid*

    I worked in a lab for about 10 years. We were not allowed to stay past close of business without registering with on site security. Security would walk through the buildings every couple of hours to do welfare checks. Nowadays there are cameras in more than just the outside areas in that lab building, but the overnight security still does walkthrough – they had to note if there were any freezer alarms going off, for example, as well as making sure any people still in the building were safe. If security found you after close and you hadn’t registered that you were staying, you got written up. 3 writeups was fireable.

  83. Double Shelix*

    Let’s just be clear on one aspect of hiding that you’re working overnight: That means the person is putting false time stamps on their data! If this is a GMP lab (most research labs are not) this is a serious allegation and renders most of that person’s data suspect. But even in a non-GMP lab, falsifying time stamps is unacceptable!

    Even if the safety issue has no teeth, the data integrity issue is serious.

  84. Nik*

    Is the guy working all these hours for free? If he is hiding it from the boss, then he must also be there during regular hours too, right? Why is he giving the company all of this free work in the first place?

    1. Bruce*

      The imaginative back of my brain is thinking he might be doing some chemistry on the side… “Breaking Bad” =8-0

  85. Grith*

    When I started at my current job, a bunch of other people were starting/changing hours, and once the dust settled, we realised that I was the only person who was signed up to be in the lab area between 4.45 and 5. And that was immediately seen as a bad idea and so I suggested an adjustment so that I finished at 4.45 as well.

    That was to avoid 15 minutes in the lab on my own, not an unaccompanied 15 hours overnight!

  86. Chicken Situation*

    Oh. Oh no. If this comes out, and especially if it comes out because there was an accident, you risk the entire lab getting shut down. OP, you have to tell your boss, and if you don’t get a sense of urgency from them, go higher in the food chain or, if that is not an option, to OSHA. They will be able to give you guidance.

    I’d also talk to your boss about putting explicit rules about this in the employee handbook.

  87. PlainJane*

    I agree that OP needs to talk to the manager, but I’m stuck on the guy’s situation itself. I’m also someone who enjoys working alone at night… but I’m a writer, which means my work is at home and also, I’m not handling hazardous chemicals or putting the boss at risk of liability.

    If he likes to get some work done at night, could it be arranged that he gather his data at the lab during normal hours, but does some of his analysis work at home at night? (Or is he trying to avoid going home at night? That’s a different situation, if he is.)

  88. Been there, done that*

    It’s interesting to me how much people are assuming the long-stayer is up to no good. When I was a biology grad student many years ago, people stayed until the wee hours ALL THE TIME. I made no attempt to coordinate that with anyone else. There was stuff labeled as potentially hazardous around, but nothing seemed more harmful than some of the harsh cleaning agents we all have under our sinks at home. There’s a little bit of the anti-Chicken Little mindset that happens in the lab, where you could have the same thing at home and no one would blink, but if you have it in the workplace, it’s a DANGER!!!! Then the truly dangerous stuff gets lumped into that and gets ignored.

    I think the OP needs to distinguish between multiple issues that are all swimming around:
    -he’s staying late and this is bad because he shouldn’t be working so many hours in a row because it’s unhealthy for him
    -this is bad because he’ll make mistakes
    -this is bad because he is falsifying stuff when no one is around
    -this is bad because if he gets in an accident, no one is around to help

    When I was a young grad student, none of those would have felt compelling to me in the least.
    The OP has made it sound like his approach to the late-stayer is, “You can’t stay late because I said so, because I don’t think it’s good for you.” I can understand why he’s ignoring the OP. Part of the reason why he’s being so flippant is because he knows himself and what works for him, and he knows he’s not falsifying anything. And I think I would have known if I was making serious mistakes (as opposed to being less efficient). All of the other things are for his own good, and that’s not compelling to everyone.

    I think the OP needs to get the late-stayer’s supervisor to have a talk with the late-stayer to get to the bottom of why he’s staying so late.

    1. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      I think I would have known if I was making serious mistakes

      I’m sure this dude thinks so, too, but given he’s working “a total of up to 36 hours at a time” and not always getting enough sleep, I HIGHLY doubt it.

  89. Safety Raccoon*

    Okay, so I spent 7 years doing research lab safety in academia. The two safety issues I see are the lone work and concern for fatigue. Performance issue is him continuing to do so after being told otherwise.

    There’s plenty of options for lone workers that can increase their safety while still allowing them to work late. In general, we would allow it in certain circumstances – the employee and their supervisor would have to review the procedures/processes, ensure everything was lower-hazard and well-established (no new experiments), and if anything was a high-hazard chemical (we had lists), it wasn’t allowed after hours (because our response teams weren’t as readily available if there was an incident).

    Once we approved them to work after hours/alone at all,
    would have them implement some other oversight method too. Options included the buddy system (having somebody else around, even if they’re not in the room), regular check-ins from security or someone else on-site, “safe calls” where they could message/call somebody every 30 minutes or whatever, and if their contact didn’t receive a call, they would follow up by calling back, calling police, etc. We’ve even done webcams before, but our IT eventually made everyone discontinue that because of security reasons.

    Fatigue-wise, you’d have to assess that based off his work and general demeanor too. Different people need different levels of sleep, and if he’s taking naps and such too, that would contribute. I’m neurodiverse, and I often work my standard day, nap for a while, do my evening stuff, then go back to work when I can focus better. It’s harder to keep him accountable for it when no one else is there, but you don’t want to get to a spot where you’re asking him how many hours he’s slept before you let him into the lab either.

    On the safety end, I’d look at why he’s doing this. Is it to collect more data? Is it because of the timing of the experiments? Does he just work better late at night? Working out the why will help a lot with the solution too.

    On the performance issue end, that will be up to your lab and your supervisor how you want to solve it. If your supervisor’s concern is safety, maybe there’s a way to address it so everybody can be happy. If he just doesn’t want that to happen, period, or has other reasons, then it’s more of a discussion for the two of them to have. I do believe you should raise the issue because of the abovementioned concerns (and the fact you know he’s hiding it), but the performance issue side of things is more your coworker’s issue to resolve because it’s based on his own choices/actions.

  90. EC*

    Its so weird to me to see so many people jumping to theft or drugs. Staying late and working a lot wouldn’t raise any suspicions to me at all as a researcher. Everyone in the lab has certifications for the use of hazardous materials. If the lab orders any scheduled drugs, you’re getting frequent DEA inspections and other people would notice if it went missing. If someone was making orders on the lab account it would be obvious. There may not even be any rules forbidding someone from working alone.

  91. Nom*

    This is raising major flags for me. This is exactly the type of situation they tell you to look out for in fraud training. Although potentially unlikely, there’s the possibility that he is messing up experiments looking for a specific outcome.

  92. Inkognyto*

    It’s a lab, is there a camera?

    If not, why not, at least a the door? Then it’s covers safety, and knowing who comes in and out, and two. if people never leave you have a record.

    Just a though from an IT guy.

    I don’t state put it in the room, big fan of not recording people working, but coming and going or for deliveries? Yeah that’s a good safe thing to have.

  93. JGD*

    I don’t know what kind of lab it is, but I’ve seen some terrible accidents and fires and accidental poisonings in labs. If there is any risk of anything like that and this person lets on that there is a wink wink you knew I was working alone at night if it does, then it’s on you and your lack of oversight. They are putting you in a bad spot.

  94. GH*

    Cw death:

    There was a culture of working overnight at a lab I worked at. after I left, a student technician stayed late, left liquid nitrogen open and never made it out in time. It was really tragic and absolutely needless, and very bad accidents happen faster than people think.

  95. Dog momma*

    LW says this involves hazardous materials and possibly biohazards. What happens if this person gets injured on his overnight, overcome by fumes etc,& bc there’s no one else there to help, hear the alarm, etc…& dies… who’s responsible?

    Or the experiment ” gets out”… like the flu virus that “got out” in the Stephen King novel.. THE STAND>> super flu or ” Captain Tripps”..sound familiar???

  96. Calamity Janine*

    i am deeply cynical and i know that workaholics exist… but being able to do such long sprints and being pissy when asked to stop means that part of me wants to give a cheeky answer of “i bet a drug test of this guy may cut through this gordian knot and solve it real quick”.

    i know the odds would actually be against me and it’s likely not this. but quite frankly i would consider it plausible enough to give a go lol, partially because if you win this long shot it all gets very neatly sorted for you in terms of what to do next.

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