Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for laboratories and research facilities

Guidance for laboratories and research facilities, including those on university campuses, on safer working during the coronavirus pandemic.

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for laboratories and research facilities
Operational guide and checklist

Operational guide and checklist

Information about changing the workforce environment to protect your workforce.

As a minimum we expect:

  • enhanced health and safety measures to be in place before staff and students are asked to return to work, including physical distancing guidance and hygiene measures generally and at bottleneck situations
  • safe travel to work arrangements to be considered as part of a risk assessment, with any relevant adjustments adopted

Safe workplace planning and communications

It is vital steps are taken to ensure a safe working environment and related workforce confidence. This is best done through early, regular and ongoing engagement between organisations and trade union or workforce representatives. As it will take time to complete the necessary risk assessment, identify the relevant mitigation measures and put those measures in place, the engagement between employers, trade union or workforce representatives must start well before a planned restart date (or ramp-up where production of essential goods or delivery of essential services have continued at less than full capacity).

It is important everyone understands the measures taken to establish the safe working environment as this is likely to have a significant impact on workforce confidence. Being, and feeling, safe will play an integral role in supporting a recovery in productivity levels. 

Hygiene

Enhanced hygiene measures should be a key plank of workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment, examples of which are set out below.

Environmental cleaning

  • more frequent cleaning of all work areas, including keyboards and mice, with usual cleaning products (detergents and disinfectants to maintain usual cleanliness)
  • more frequent cleaning of door handles and other frequently touched surfaces
  • additional use of 70% alcohol solution spray and wipe
  • provide more frequent rubbish collection and more waste disposal facilities
  • provide paper towels instead of hand dryers
  • implement procedures for cleaning new equipment when entering the facility
  • implement procedures for receiving and unpacking consumables, considering all surfaces as dirty and cleaned appropriately
  • minimising the use and increased cleaning of shared work equipment, e.g. pipettes and laptops.  If this cannot be avoided, frequently used equipment to be sanitised after each use, ensuring power is off where possible, e.g. use disinfectant wipes on electrical equipment such as laptops
  • minimising the use, and increased cleaning, of touchpoints throughout buildings
  • consideration of the circulation of air in working environments and the options available for improving and ensuring suitable ventilation

Health Protection Scotland has produced further guidance on enhanced cleaning procedures for non-healthcare settings.

Hand hygiene

  • coronavirus is spread when respiratory secretions from an infected person enters the mouth, nose or eyes of another.  One way in which this can happen is by touching eyes, nose or mouth with contaminated hands.  It is therefore important to avoid touching the face with unwashed hands
  • perform hand hygiene regularly, and especially before and after eating
  • promote good hand hygiene for all staff/visitors/students
  • ensure there are sufficient hand washing facilities and provision of alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) at key areas such as entry/exit points and communal areas
  • visual reminders around facilities to wash hands may be useful

Respiratory hygiene

  • catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue and dispose of any tissues into a bin and wash hands immediately
  • if an individual does not have tissues to hand, they should catch coughs and sneezes in the crook of their elbow
  • wash hands with soap and water or use ABHR before eating and drinking, and after coughing, sneezing and going to the toilet

NHS Inform also includes clear advice around hand and respiratory hygiene.

Skin health surveillance

Enhanced hand hygiene measures may result in work-related skin conditions. It may be appropriate to consider enhanced skin health surveillance.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing is the other key plank of workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment. Working from home should remain the default, where possible.

Factors organisations will want to consider include:

  • implementing floor markings in corridors and laboratory spaces as appropriate to ensure staff members and visitors stay at least two metres apart.  Consider establishing and signaling a one-way system where this is possible  
  • facility layout and signage with clear marking of two metre boundaries around the workplace and workstations and signage which reinforces expectations of employees at relevant points (as English may not be the first language for everyone, organisations should consider how best to use visual material to reinforce messages)
  • identify a maximum number of people in any workspace or communal area
  • limiting access to parts of the workplace required by an individual to do their job as this will limit the chances for interaction with others
  • implement a monitoring system to limit the number of staff in research facilities or laboratories at any one time, for example a sign in/sign out sheet to track how many people are in a particular facility at one time
  • implement a dedicated entrance and exit to buildings and work areas where possible
  • use entrances and exits direct to the outside where appropriate, especially for external staff
  • implement staggered working hours where possible to reduce contact
  • staggering entry and exit times to prevent bottlenecks arising as people arrive or leave to buildings and workplaces.
  • staggering break times and adjusting canteen arrangements or access to smoking areas and other social areas to reduce opportunities for larger numbers of staff to interact on a face to face basis
  • splitting the workforce into specific teams to avoid cross-team contamination and provide a level of operational resilience in case someone in one team develops COVID-19 symptoms 
  • all meetings to be conducted via teleconference
  • considering opportunities to introduce additional technology support and systems to assist in managing the safe working practices and in particular physical distancing
  • on-site personnel restricted to staff members essential for completion of work, approved by facility manager
  • restriction of non-business deliveries (no personal deliveries for staff members)
  • where physical distancing cannot be followed, it should be considered whether the activity is critical for business operations; if a critical task requires staff members to stay less than two metres apart, a documented risk assessment must be conducted and appropriate control measures should be put in place

Shift patterns

Organisations may develop plans to change shift patterns to both protect the workforce and optimise productive capacity. This could include considering opportunities to reduce the need for travel at peak times and opportunities for flexible working patterns. This will require proper negotiation with trade union or workforce representatives if it involves a change in employee terms and conditions.

Travel to work and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) has provided COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings which reiterates that people should not travel if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. The HPS advice and any subsequent safe travelling advice should be factored into company decisions on planned returns to work.

Transport Scotland has produced guidance to assist the public to travel safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is important that the latest version of the guidance is read.

The HPS guidance also offers advice on the use of PPE, confirming workplaces should use PPE consistent with local policies and in line with measures justified by a risk assessment. Both the Scottish Government and the HSE recommend a risk-based approach focused on a hierarchy of control which seeks to eliminate risks, combat risks at source, adapt workplaces to individual needs, ensure adequate staff training around processes to manage the risk and then use PPE where required. Where PPE is deemed necessary, an adequate supply and quality must be maintained, which is provided free of charge to workers and which must fit properly. 

Where reusable PPE is used, such as laboratory coats, enhanced and more frequent cleaning should be considered.

COVID-19 symptoms within the workplace

The virus is expected to remain in the population for some time, even after lockdown restrictions have been eased and people begin to return to work. This will cause anxiety for people who will also want to understand how any outbreaks in the workplace will be handled. As part of risk assessments, organisations should explore with trade union or workforce representatives how to respond should anyone develop symptoms while at work, including whether it is possible to identify any particular parts of the site the individual may have accessed or equipment used while symptomatic. As part of this, consideration should be given how best to monitor the health of all individuals in a workplace.

Employees have a responsibility to ensure they adhere to overall COVID-19 advice which says people with symptoms should remain at home and self-isolate. Organisations and employees should remain in regular communication throughout any period of self-isolation, with organisations encouraged to work with trade union or workforce representatives to enable individuals to work from home while self-isolating if appropriate.

Dealing with emergencies

Protocols for dealing with emergencies, evacuations and accidents will be impacted by the need to maintain physical distancing while individuals who would normally lead or coordinate site responses in such situations may be amongst those working from home. Emergency, evacuation and accident response processes must be considered and reviewed where necessary to ensure effective arrangements are still in place. Everyone on-site should be familiar with new processes.

The HSE has also produced guidance for First Aid during the coronavirus outbreak.

Checklist

A checklist to support organisations implement this guidance will be developed in response to initial feedback and added here as part of the regular updating of the guidance.