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. 

Enhanced hygiene and cleaning arrangements

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.

We have published guidance on opening public and customer toilets.

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.

Ventilation

Organisations should ensure adequate levels of ventilation. Where centralised or local mechanical ventilation is present, systems should be adjusted to full fresh air. If this is not possible systems should be operated as normal. Where ventilation units have filters present enhanced precautions should be taken when changing filters. Ventilation systems should be checked or adjusted to ensure they do not automatically adjust ventilation levels due to differing occupancy levels.

Wherever it is safe to do so, doors and windows should be kept open to increase natural ventilation (this advice will be reviewed as we head into the winter months). This will also help to reduce contact with door handles. However, internal fire doors should never be held open (unless assessed and provided with appropriate hold open and self-closing mechanisms which respond to the actuation of the fire alarm system). The Fire Safety Risk Assessment should always be reviewed before any internal doors are held open.

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

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.

All arrangements for those staff who need to travel to work should be reviewed and consideration given to the need for additional measures to ensure these staff are able to maintain physical distancing when using public or private transport and are applying effective hand hygiene before and after journeys. For employees who live a reasonable distance from their workplace, the best and advised option is to walk or cycle.

Employers currently offering staff transport may need to re-schedule trips or offer an enhanced service to facilitate appropriate physical distancing. In light of the requirements, managers should also discuss with staff the need to review other travel arrangements, such as car sharing.

Employees should be encouraged to avoid shared transport but in situations where this is unavoidable:

  • encourage arrangements which ensure the number of workers in each vehicle is kept to a minimum, for example by organising more trips with fewer people in each vehicle
  • where possible, restrict car sharing to groups of people who use the same work area
  • all employees should be advised to wear face coverings in shared vehicles (as required when using public transport)
  • vehicles should be well ventilated (i.e. by keeping the windows open), and passengers should face away from each other wherever possible
  • all employees should be instructed not to use shared transport if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and should stay at home and follow government guidance on self-isolation. Encourage drivers or designated persons to check employees prior to boarding vehicles to ensure those who have suspected symptoms do not travel
  • shared vehicles, including minibuses, should be cleaned regularly using gloves, with particular emphasis on handles and other areas where passengers may touch surfaces

Wearing appropriate PPE where necessary

Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare settings sets out guidance on use of PPE. This advice confirms that workplaces should use PPE consistent with local policies and in line with measures justified by risk assessment.

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.

Face coverings 

It is important to note the difference between face masks and face coverings. We have issued guidance on the personal use of face coverings

The guidance relates to use of face coverings by members of the public in specific circumstances. This advice is not intended as an infection prevention and control measure for the workplace where there are other health and safety considerations and measures in place such as physical distancing and hygiene controls. Physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene, are the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of facial coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions.  

The Scottish Government also encourages use of re-usable, washable face coverings, rather than single use masks to minimise plastic waste.

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.

The checklist should reflect the minimum expectations outlined in the sectoral guidance document.

Organisations who wish to increase workforce or public confidence are encouraged to display the checklist to help to communicate actions being implemented or undertaken.

Page last updated: 7 September 2020


First published: 29 Jun 2020 Last updated: 14 Sep 2020 -