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.

35 page PDF

454.3 kB

35 page PDF

454.3 kB

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

35 page PDF

454.3 kB


This guidance is for all laboratories and research facilities in Scotland, including those on university campuses. It came into effect on 29 June 2020 and extends until further notice. It will be reviewed in line with Coronavirus restrictions.

The scope of this guidance covers all indoor research environments including:

  • research and testing laboratories
  • engineering centres
  • clean rooms
  • prototyping centres
  • wet laboratories
  • wind tunnels
  • computer laboratories
  • simulators
  • material development laboratories
  • specialist testing rooms
  • field research centres
  • research libraries and research archives
  • all similar workplaces

These environments are in a variety of organisations, such as life sciences and other science-related businesses, universities, colleges, innovation centres and research institutes.  They are collectively referred to as ‘organisations’ throughout this guide.

Scotland’s protection levels and labs and research

We have been taking an approach based on five levels of protection. At each level, working from home (WFH), where possible, has remained the default position for research. Currently, where WFH is not possible, both essential and non-essential work can take place in laboratories and research facilities in all areas at any of the protection levels 0 to 4.

The virus presents a risk when carrying out activity in enclosed spaces. Extra caution must be taken when operating environments, including the continued use of non-pharmaceutical interventions, in particular the use of ventilation in lab settings.

The postcode checker can be used to check a local COVID protection level and the rules associated with it. Going to work in labs and research facilities if that work cannot be done from home or outdoors is allowed under current regulations, but only if that work is essential and safe (see below).

This guide is part of a set about how to work safely in different types of workplaces, should it not be possible to work from home which remains the default.

This guidance is underpinned by a spirit of collaborative working between organisations and their workforce, staff and students. Throughout, the terms organisations and trade union or workforce representatives are used in that context, acknowledging that organisations have a legal responsibility to maintain workplace health and safety and must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there is not one, a representative chosen by staff.  Employers cannot decide who the workforce representative will be. 

This guidance sets out our expectations on what laboratories and research facilities of all sizes, sectors and disciplines need to consider as part of their planning for continued working in the context of national and local restrictions.

This is provided as guidance only and does not amount to legal advice.  Individual facilities or institutions may wish to seek their own advice to ensure compliance with all legal requirements. 

The guidance emphasises in particular the importance of undertaking robust and ongoing risk assessments with full input from trade union or workforce representatives, and to keep all risk mitigation measures under regular review so that workers, staff and students continue to feel, and be, safe.

The remainder of this guidance sets out our minimum expectations across five key areas that organisations will need to consider as part of their planning for restarting or adapting activity, while minimising the transmission of the virus:

  • assessing risk – involving the workforce, staff and students in a risk-based approach to a safer workplace
  • workforce planning – supporting those who should come to work and those who should not
  • operational guide and checklist – changing the workplace environment to protect your workforce, staff and students
  • deliveries, distribution and visitors – protecting your workforce, staff and students and those who come on-site
  • training and compliance

The regulator for health and safety at work is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who will utilise the powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure people at work are protected.

Related guidance

Universities should also use guidance on universities, colleges and student accommodation providers.

Organisations working in multi-purpose sites, for example those in the life sciences sector, may also find it useful to consider the manufacturing guidance.

Organisations may also find it useful to refer to the general guidance for safer workplaces.

If appropriate, laboratories and research facilities may also want to consult Health Protection Scotland’s guidance on Covid-19 sampling and laboratory investigations.

Laboratories and research facilities may also wish to consult policy guidance on support for CSO funded research projects.  This includes a framework published by NIHR for restarting research activities paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First published: 15 Jan 2021 Last updated: 29 Apr 2021 -