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I often have to work in our server room with a colleague, doing things like racking new systems, replacing drives, diagnosing issues, etc. It's a super loud room with around 50 units going at once, so the door is soundproofed. We're supposed to keep the door closed when we're in the room to keep the noise down, but it's making me uncomfortable to be alone with someone else there.

I don't have any reason to think my coworkers would assault me, it's just that this would be the perfect room to do so. There are no windows in the room and as far as I can tell from the damping, it'd be really hard to hear anyone inside yelling for help.

I've tried propping the door open, but my coworker shuts it again and reiterates that the rules indicate the door should be closed. I've said that I'm simply more comfortable with the door open, but that hasn't worked either.

How should I try to politely tell coworkers I'm uncomfortable being alone with someone else in a closed-off room, in case of an assault?

closed as off-topic by Mister Positive Mar 28 at 17:13

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You can't.

First, the problem you describe is 100% about the situation in which you're working, and 0% about the person with whom you're working.

So any approach which mentions a specific person (along the lines of "I'm not comfortable working with you in the server room") shifts the focus away from your actual problem, and will cause an implication that you have some fear of specific people. Since that's not the case it will only cause confusion in general, and hurt feelings in the people you mention (who, per your description, have done absolutely nothing to produce your discomfort).

This is a work environment problem, and the person to discuss it with is someone that has authority to grant or limit access to the server room. Your issue seems, to me, to be that if you are working in the server room you need to be alone, and be assured that no one else can enter while you're working there.

That's not something that a coworker, carrying out their own assigned tasks in the room, can address. A manager or supervisor might be able to help you with those, but you'll have to collaborate with them to find a solution that suits your needs.

If that's not possible, or you're not comfortable pursuing it, then it may be impossible for you to work in the server room and feel comfortable. The most direct solution to that would be that your work tasks are changed so that you don't need to do anything in the server room at all.

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    Being alone in he server room and "no one else can enter while you're working there" would be a safety issue in itself. If the OP has an accident then this would hinder any rescue efforts, and as such management should deny such a request. – Peter M Mar 27 at 18:08
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    @PeterM Fair point. If that's the only way to address the OP's concerns, then we're probably into "can't work in the server room" territory. – Upper_Case Mar 27 at 19:49
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    @mcknz The OP mentions "racking new systems, replacing drives, diagnosing issues". That alone exposes her to electrical and mechanical hazards, not to mention that an enclosed server room will have a fire suppression system which would be antithetical to good health if you remained inside when it went off - and there would be an increased risk of slip and fall (and injury/unconsciousness) in any scramble to get out of the room when the alarm goes off. – Peter M Mar 27 at 20:42
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    @ThomasBowen If the OP doesn't like being in a secluded area with one man, being in there with two men may not solve the problem. – DaveG Mar 28 at 15:34
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    @ThomasBowen The issue doesn't seem to be the actual risk of assault, but rather that the server room seems to the OP to be a place in which an assault would be easier to carry out, and that therefore an assault is more likely to happen or more difficult to address afterwards. The OP has not here described any reason to fear assault other than properties of the location, and those properties will exist whether we're discussing a lone attacker, a conspiracy of attackers, or an abstract risk. To address that, assault needs to be impossible, or the properties of the room have to change. – Upper_Case Mar 28 at 15:48
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You are looking at the issue from the wrong side...

Working alone in a soundproof noisy room full of heavy equipment is extremely dangerous: the colleague with you is your safety belt, be grateful he's with you!

Other answers propose surveillance cameras that could help in case of an accident: these cameras would not be manned 24/7 so should a server drop you would be stuck until someone notices you are missing.

Moreover it is common practice not to work alone in dangerous places to increase safety (underwater workers are an example).

In my opinion you could completely avoid the need to talk with your colleague shifting your focus to an actual issue (safety on the workplace: did you see a rack tilt? Scary, if you are on the wrong side!) instead of trying to avoid an hypotetical assault in a server room from a coworker that gave you no reason to fear him.

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    You might want to cite your claim that inanimate object accidents are more dangerous than other people. Here is a possible source: www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/… – Yakk Mar 27 at 19:32
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    @Yakk that's not my claim actually. My claim is that working with a colleague in a dangerous place is safer than being alone. – Paolo Mar 27 at 19:45
  • My mind was on tiles that slide, rack unbalanced, a disk falling and while you bend the head goes against a sharp edge... Some of them are funny to look at, some can easily become more dangerous than what you expect – Paolo Mar 28 at 12:19
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    Also, there are risk of electric shocks, this is the reason that electricians and linemen are always working in couples, besides in most cases it' always much faster to work with an aide when working on electrical panels, you have to move way less to take things and so on. – Michele L'Intenditore Mar 28 at 12:29
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    @Adonalsium this is on purpouse: I'm not a medical professional and I made a generic suggestion that can fit. Guesses about what happened in the past of the OP that led to this question are not something we should handle here and an answer addressing such issues should be provided by professionals. – Paolo Mar 28 at 20:39
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Leaving the door open is most definitely NOT the solution. That is a blatant security risk, and if anyone with responsibility for security found the room in that state, IMO you would deserve instant dismissal if that was the outcome of the disciplinary procedure that followed!

My own employers have a scheme where anyone who has concerns about their personal safety can request a personal wearable alarm, which is monitored 24/7. People don't need to give any specific reasons for requesting them. The mere fact that you are likely to be working, or moving around inside or outside the building, in situations where there are unlikely to be other people observing you is enough reason.

A good solution would be to propose something like that as a global solution to the potential problem. Such devices and the services to monitor them are not expensive - they are basically the same technology used in social and medical care, to monitor the wellbeing of high-risk individuals living at home.

Your personal concerns may or may not be well founded, but it's impossible to make a judgement about that from reading only one side of the story here. On the other hand, employees working in isolated situations do suffer sudden illnesses, trip over things and break bones, give themselves electric shocks, etc, etc - and in most countries, the company has a legal duty of care to protect them against the consequences of such risks.

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    Indeed, quite apart from the specific situation described, the personal alarm is a great idea. Suppose the co-worker stepped out for lunch or was out sick or on vacation, and then some catastrophic injury happened there in a room most people can't get access to. How would anyone else even know what had happened? – user1602 Mar 28 at 16:49
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I've tried making up an excuse that it's too warm with the door closed, I've tried saying that I'm just more comfortable with the door open, but he keeps closing it.

This line alone tells me all I need to know about your qualifications to work in a server room.

First of all, keeping the door close will keep the cool air in and makes the room cooler. Which is what you want in a server room, not letting it leak out. So not only do you have your facts wrong, you completely misunderstand the purpose of air tight sealing a server room.

Secondly, a server room is meant to be a one of the most secured places in a company. The company's livelihood rests in this place. There's a reason it should always be locked and secured.

And lastly, the secure soundproof nature of the room is PRECISELY the reason you need a second person in the room with you so you have a helping hand in case something falls on you, trapping you in the cold room to slowly die.

I suggest that you not only look for another place of employment, but another line of work where you're surrounded by people in an open area.

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    This doesn't seem to answer the question, even though you bring up some valid points about the security aspects related to a server room. – Mister Positive Mar 28 at 2:54
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    Seems like it answers the question perfectly to me: 'These procedures you are "uncomfortable with" are standard, acceptable and part of the job and unlikely to be changed. If you can't come to terms with them, the best course of action is to find a different career path.' While it may seem blunt, it's a definite answer to "what to do about this situation". – AAlig Mar 28 at 13:44
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If you want to bring it up to them directly, I would focus on you don't like being in enclosed spaces. Adding him to your reasoning is not going to do anything productive and will likely backfire and cause HIM to make an HR complaint (as many here would recommend to get ahead of potential issues).

You could also bring it up to your boss/supervisor and simply tell them you get anxious around the person, though be truthful that they have done nothing that may explain why you react this way.

If all you have is your anxiety/gut feeling, I would definitely NOT bring this to HR at this point in time.

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    If the OP chooses to make this argument, then that means she can never be in the server room alone either. – David K Mar 27 at 17:04
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    @DavidK If a person is afraid a known colleague might attack her, that person will surely be afraid of someone still unknown coming into the server room while they are alone, or not? – nvoigt Mar 27 at 17:06
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    @DavidK - that would be something OP would need to navigate. I don't see an alternative way in which OP could explain why they need to keep the door propped that won't backfire spectacularly. – Havegooda Mar 27 at 17:12
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    @nvoigt I more mean that saying they don't like being in enclosed spaces sounds like saying they are claustrophobic, which is not accurate and could make them look bad if they are ever found to be in other enclosed spaces in different situations. – David K Mar 27 at 17:12
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    @corsiKa - while you're not wrong, you're also not right. No one suggested OP "deal with it", but when it comes to affecting other people who have done nothing wrong, yes, you have "deal with it". The alternative is putting the other person in a situation you have no right to put them in. This is entirely OP's issue and it needs to be handled however they decide to handle it. Handling it doesn't need to only mean "suck it up and ignore it buttercup". You can address the issue multiple ways, many of which have been suggested in this thread. – Havegooda Mar 27 at 18:45
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You can bring this up to your colleague but you need to understand that:

  • the colleague may feel offended by your implication that they would attack you.
  • there is nothing stopping anyone in the room with you from closing the door after you have propped it open and subsequently attacking you.

Ultimately, you should reach out to management and explain your concerns working under these conditions and see if they can somehow accommodate you.

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We're supposed to keep the door closed when we're in the room to keep the noise down.

There's nothing you can do when it comes to your co-worker. He's just following protocol. It's the system that's flawed.

It's perfectly normal to feel at unease here, and you should ask the right people to do something about it. You are entitled to a safe work environment (we all are, heck, people use helmets, gloves and steel-boots for a reason). Besides, it makes sense for the company to make sure they don't get themselves into a sticky situation.

You should take this issue up with management and ask them to proceed to get better protocols up and running. That may include a change in the open door policy or having proper security systems installed.

If the company is not willing to change their protocols then you either have to decide if you really want to work in that work environment or not.

As a last resorts you could talk to the co-worker one on one to help him understand your concerns, while making sure it has nothing to do with him as a person. This is a slippery slope, however, and I'd only use this as a last resort if it means the difference of you staying or leaving. Even then, you'd still be breaking the company policy.

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    Abandon the ship? That's a fairly extreme measure in a situation where absolutely nothing has happened. Also, saying that this is an unsafe environment is to make a judgment without having any supporting evidence. Is it potentially unsafe? Maybe... but so is every other work space. This is clearly an issue that the OP has, based entirely on internal, subjective fears. They should speak to HR about their concerns and make it clear that nothing has happened that requires their action, but that the OP would like to see if they can find some way to reasonably accommodate the OP. – joeqwerty Mar 27 at 17:03
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    I'd certainly agree with security cameras. Especially if the feed is made available to the IT team as well as security. It would not only be handy, but head off any "he said / she said" issues. – Wesley Long Mar 27 at 17:09
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    @Jonast92 - If the OP can make it about the environment, and not the coworker, I can respect that position. However, the OP made it entirely about the coworker. – Wesley Long Mar 27 at 17:32
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    @WesleyLong I agree that one should not assume the worst out of specific individuals and I think it was a mistake to make this "about" him. My problem here is that there's an actual risk here that can be avoided, which in the end has nothing to do with impacting the situation of OP's co-worker. There is a risk here. A risk that's statistically there. Ignoring it is naive. It should be addressed like any other threat. But I agree with you, this should not be about the co-worker. I think OP's simply using him as an example to put things into context. Telling OP to get over it is just .. wow. – Jonast92 Mar 27 at 17:34
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    "It's perfectly normal to feel at unease here". This behavior is anything but normal. – dan-klasson Mar 27 at 19:30
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I don't know how much time we are talking about. Maybe you need to explain to your manager that you feel uneasy to be in that room with a man, not call out your particular colleague. And ask for permission to keep door open while together with a man inside.

You can also tell the same to your colleague - that you feel uneasy with a man in an enclosed and soundproof place.

Also you could seek professional help to figure out why you feel uneasy with a known and well behaved man in your work environment. Being capable and confident in a common scenario like this can be useful in other areas of your life.

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