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

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

35 page PDF

454.3 kB

Workforce planning

Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not.

As a minimum we expect:

  • working from home to continue to be the default, where possible. That might include a blended approach, using laboratory or other specialist facilities when necessary, while working from home for office-based activities such as to analyse and interpret data, or tele-conferencing to discuss findings with colleagues
  • health factors to be considered in any planning of work, with employees living in vulnerable or shielded households only expected to attend in laboratories and research facilities when appropriate safe working environment measures are in place and on-site work is consistent with individual medical advice and the advice on the level of shielding in the Strategic Framework applicable to the local area.
  • new laboratories and research facilities arrangements to be tested and modified through collaboration between employers and employees
  • organisations to take travel to work and home schooling, childcare and returning to school considerations into account in decisions and to manage travel demand through staggered start times and flexible working patterns

Working from home

Minimising the spread of the virus will remain important in ensuring the overall protection of public health. Therefore planning for safe work should assume that those able to work from home will continue to do so. Organisations should plan for the minimum number of people needed on-site to operate safely and effectively, with a limited attendance on-site for many organisations.

Working from home as a public health measure has been a crucial factor in mitigating the transmission of the virus in the general public and is an effort we must continue.

In all areas, we need every organisation to work with their workforce to look again at their operations, and to make sure that every single function that can be done by people working at home is being done in that way.

This means that only work that requires access to laboratories and research facilities should be completed on-site. If work can be completed from home or outdoors, it should be.

Home working may have been implemented at pace, without normal health and safety planning to ensure people have suitable working arrangements and equipment. Organisations should also consider how to best support working from home (for example, provision of laptops, mobile phones, video conferencing services, etc.). Please see the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice on home working for further information.

The Scottish Government has also published guidance to support the continuation of homeworking during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Scotland has also provided guidance for employers for those who are homeworking with protected characteristics.

Pilot measures

Implementing enhanced safety measures may take time to bed in. It is good practice to pilot measures, either within part of a facility and / or with a proportion of the workforce at lower risk from the virus, before rolling out across the workplace as a whole. Travel to work and childcare and home schooling considerations for individual employees should be taken into account by organisations in discussion with trade unions or employee representatives, before deciding which individuals to involve in on-site pilots or adapted work activity.

Employee health and wellbeing

Employers should ensure the organisational culture is inclusive, with the aim that every employee should feel that they are returning to, or are continuing to work in, a supportive, caring and safe environment. The pandemic has had an unequal impact across the workforce, as different employee groups, and individuals, will have been affected in diverse ways according to factors such as their job role, geographic location, research discipline, and demographic/ personal circumstances. Therefore, it is important that organisations foster a fair and inclusive working environment that does not tolerate discrimination. There is also a risk of victimisation of those who have been infected by, or suspected of being so, or are more vulnerable to COVID-19 which should be addressed.

The following guides from the Health and Safety Executive provide useful sources of information:

Equalities

Individual health circumstances and protected characteristics should be considered and discussed with workers before prioritising who is asked to work on-site. This should recognise the protective measures required to minimise health risks to vulnerable or shielded workers. Workers in the shielding category should not be expected to physically attend work depending on the level of shielding advice in place in the local area. In areas at level 4, they should not be asked to leave home for work at all. At all levels, every effort must be made to explore how they can work from home. Permission should be sought from individuals before collecting any information on health conditions of those within their household.

Consideration should be given within the risk assessment as to whether staff might be at higher risk than others depending on their individual circumstances, health conditions or belonging to a group with legally protected characteristics.

Organisation may also want to consult Public Health Scotland’s Updated analysis of COVID-19 outcomes by ethnic group.

In addition to the existing legal responsibilities under the Equality Act, there are other issues that employers should consider to ensure workplaces are inclusive and are taking account of the impact of COVID-19 on particular groups, such as women, disabled people and people from ethnic minority communities.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Scotland can provide advice on a range of issues such as:

EHRC have also produced guidance for public sector employers about equality impact assessments and having due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and Scottish Specific Duties during the pandemic.

Reasonable adjustments should be made to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage, and the health and safety risks for new or expectant mothers should be assessed. It is important to make sure the steps implemented do not have an unjustifiably negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities or those with religious commitments.

Given that there is some evidence which suggests that COVID-19 may impact disproportionately on some groups, in particular Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, employers should ensure that Occupational Health Service provide practical support to BAME staff, particularly where they are anxious about protecting themselves and their families. All minority ethnic staff with underlying health conditions and disabilities, who are over 70, or who are pregnant should be individually risk assessed, and appropriate workplace adjustments should be made following risk assessment.

Organisations should also acknowledge the range of factors likely to cause stress or anxiety amongst employees, ranging from living with restrictions to concerns about travel, schools, caring responsibilities and relatives impacted by the virus, amongst others. This may have implications for mental health with managers encouraged to be conscious of how these factors may impact on the well-being of individual staff members. Organisations and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support.

Close the Gap, through their ‘Think Business Think Equality’ toolkit, have produced guidance on employers supporting workers affected by domestic abuse during the pandemic. A more general online self-assessment resource for employers on domestic abuse is also available. The RNIB also provide information on employing partially sighted and blind workers during COVID, and a COVID risk assessment tool.

Close the Gap have also produced some actions that employers can take to reduce discrimination and advance gender equality at work.

Returning to work

  • Conduct individual risk assessments for pregnant women and women returning to work from maternity leave.
  • Conduct individual risk assessments for workers in the shielding category
  • Conduct individual risk assessments for BAME groups who are disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
  • Ensure that all employees have access to PPE, where required, and that it is appropriately sized and well-fitting for female staff.
  • Support disabled female employees by conducting risk assessments, and make reasonable adjustments where required.
  • Ensure return to work plans and risk assessments consider the impact of caring responsibilities, which mainly affects women, and include mitigation where this affects an employee’s ability to return to work safely.
  • Ensure that all staff, including part-time staff who are mainly women, and those returning from maternity leave are able to access training on returning to the workplace, and that this is delivered within working hours.

Caring responsibilities

  • Adopt a default flexible approach to staff with caring or home schooling responsibilities, who are more likely to be women. This could include flexible hours, reduced or reallocated workloads, and/or using flexible furlough provisions.
  • Regularly check-in with staff to see how they are managing balancing work with caring responsibilities. This may change if there is a move to blended learning in schools, or if individual schools, nurseries and care services are temporarily closed or reduced again.
  • Ensure staff who are caring for someone that has been shielding, which will be more likely to be female staff, are supported to work from home if they wish to.

Data gathering

Collect intersectional gender-disaggregated data on the impact of COVID-19 on employees. This could include data on:

  • staff who have been furloughed, by job role, grade, division/service, and the reason for furloughing;
  • the impact of working from home, and how this was affected by childcare, home learning and care for older people and disabled people;
  • which employees have returned to work
  • changes to working patterns; and
  • employees who have been made redundant, or are currently in a selection pool for redundancy, by job role and grade.

Close the Gap suggest that employers may want to use this data to identify gendered patterns in the experiences of male and female staff, which will help to inform workforce planning and employment practice during Covid-19.

Mental health

The main message employers should give to employees is: if you need help, help is available. It is important that everyone holds onto the reality that this is temporary, and things will get better.

It is important that organisations realise that the change and uncertainty arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and employment are impacting on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and that changing circumstances, including the rapid change to home working and furloughing, may create new challenges and demand for mental health support.

It can be challenging for workers to raise concerns about mental health when working remotely, especially if their living arrangements are not conducive to working from home. Some workers may find that working from home, and/or additional caring or home schooling responsibilities brings additional stress. The anxieties that some may feel about continuing to attend work or returning to workplaces is also likely to be a factor.

Organisations and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support.

In October, Scottish Government launched the Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan, which outlines our response to the mental health impacts of COVID19. In this plan, we recognise the economic and employment impacts that COVID-19 will have on the public’s mental health.

We would encourage employers and employees to use the resources available in the Scottish Government’s Clear Your Head campaign, which provides practical advice for maintaining good mental health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic, and directs those who need extra support to helplines operated by NHS 24, Breathing Space and Samaritans.

If someone you know is struggling with persistently poor mental health, we would encourage them to speak to their local GP. Alternatively, out of hours support can be provided by Breathing Space, Scotland’s national helpline for those experiencing low mood, depression, or anxiety, on 0800 83 85 87 - or NHS 24 on shortcode 111.

Organisations should also acknowledge the range of factors likely to cause stress or anxiety amongst employees, ranging from living with restrictions to concerns about travel, schooling, caring responsibilities and relatives impacted by the virus, amongst others. This may have implications for mental health with managers encouraged to be conscious of how these factors may impact on the well-being of individual staff members. Organisations and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support.

Childcare and home schooling

Workers and organisations may want to refer to the guidance to help schools ensure a low-risk environment for learning and teaching. Where schools and childcare facilities are closed, workers may experience difficulties attending work due to being unable to secure appropriate child care, having to home school their children and managing other additional responsibilities on top of their existing workload.

This will affect working parents with children at home and we encourage employers to be flexible and provide support to employees during this time.

There are already some good examples within the sector. Some organisations have successfully trialled and implemented flexible working practices, and additional support measures. Where a worker is unable to attend work as a result of schools or childcare facilities closing, and home working or flexible working is not an option, check whether you are entitled to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Definitions of key workers that were agreed with local authorities during the previous wave of the pandemic will continue to apply. The definitions of key workers and support for children of keyworkers can be found in the Scottish Government Coronavirus guidance on schools reopening which also sets out plans for a phased start to the 2021 spring term. Any queries regarding key worker status should be directed to the appropriate local authority.

Test and Protect

 

Test and Protect, Scotland’s approach to implementing the 'test, trace, isolate, support' strategy is a public health measure designed to break chains of transmission of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community.

Testing has an important part to play in our response to COVID-19, and has a vital but limited role as a confidence-building measure. A negative test result during the incubation period does not rule out infection as the person could still be developing the infection and could infect others.

Accessing twice weekly tests for people without symptoms is now available for those who are not participating in a workplace or education testing programme.  If a person wishes to participate in weekly testing then they can pick up test kits from a local Test Site or order online for postal delivery via this website: Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested in Scotland - gov.scot (www.gov.scot) or by phoning 119.   If a person tests positive using these tests (LFD home tests) they will be advised to isolate and book a PCR test to confirm the result.

Organisations should follow public health guidance if a worker becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at work. The person should leave work to selfisolate straight away and, if possible, wear a face covering on route and avoid public transport.

Organisations should direct workers to NHS Inform or, if they can’t get online, call 0800 028 2816, to arrange to get tested.

Until they have been tested and told if it is safe to leave home, organisations should make sure that staff do not have to, or feel that they have to, come in to work. Workers can request an isolation note through NHS Inform and those required to isolate can also request, from Test and Protect, a letter to give to their employer which states the isolation timeframe and the employer’s responsibility during this time.

People who have tested positive for the virus will need to self-isolate for 10 days, unless certain symptoms persist. Test and Protect contact tracers will interview them and get in touch with people they have been in close contact with, and tell them they must self-isolate for 10 days and should also be tested. Where Infection Prevention Control measures have been utilised such as protective screen or use of PPE, the contact tracer will conduct a risk assessment to identify contacts at risk. The priority is to public health in order to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19. If organisations are informed by a contact tracer that one of their employees or attendees should isolate, organisations should help them to do so straight away. They may feel well, as the virus could still be incubating when they are asked to isolate.

Some people who are asked to isolate may not become unwell, but they must stay at home and self-isolate for the full 10 days. Organisations can ask them to work from home if they are able to and they are not unwell. Organisations should not ask someone isolating to come into work before their period of isolation is complete, in any circumstances.

Testing has an important part to play in our response to COVID-19, and has a vital but limited role as a confidence-building measure. A negative test result during the incubation period does not rule out infection as the person could still be developing the infection and could infect others. Where Infection Prevention Control measures have been utilised such as protective screen or use of PPE, the contact tracer will conduct a risk assessment to identify contacts at risk. The priority is to public health in order to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19.

More information can be found on the Test and Protect website and the NHS Inform website provides further health advice and information including on duration of self-isolation.

For Test and Protect and contact tracing purposes, a household contactis defined as:

  • those who are living in the same household as a case (e.g. those that live and sleep in the same home, or in shared accommodation such as university accommodation that share a kitchen or bathroom)
  • those who do not live with the case but have contact within the household setting: Those that have spent a significant time in the home (cumulatively equivalent to an overnight stay and without physical distancing e.g. 8 hours or more) with a case
  • sexual contacts who do not usually live with the case
  • cleaners (without protective equipment) of household settings during the infectious period, even if the case was not present at the time.

Pay for workers who are sheltering, self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities is likely to be a source of concern for employees. Organisations should work with trade union or workforce representatives to provide early guidance to workforces on processes and support for individuals affected by these issues. Again, opportunities to facilitate home working where feasible should be actively pursued and maintained.

Contact tracing

Organisations should keep records of staff and students/apprentices who have attended labs and research facilities. Records should also be kept of visitors and contractors. Particular attention should be made to the guidance on lawful data collection and management.

Protect Scotland is an entirely voluntary, anonymous app that is an additional part of NHS Scotland’s Test & Protect service. Having the app should never be a requirement for any workplace. The app complements but does not replace manual contact tracing. It enhances contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk as they have come into close contact (less than 2 metres for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for Covid-19. Further information about the contact tracing app for employers, workers and customers is available.

Protect Scotland is an entirely voluntary app that is an additional part of NHS Scotland’s Test & Protect service. Having the app should never be a requirement for any workplace. The app complements but does not replace manual contact tracing. It enhances contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk as they have come into close contact (less than 2 metres for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for Covid-19. Further information about the contact tracing app for employers, workers and customers is available.

Vaccination

The vaccine represents an important step in our progress towards a safer return to workplaces. Evidence to date shows it will reduce both mortality and morbidity, however we do not know the extent to which the vaccine reduces transmission of the virus from an infected person to others. That is why it is important for businesses and employees to act responsibly, follow FACTS and continue to align their approach with published guidance.

Further information and guidance available at Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination.

Outbreak management

Our approach to outbreak management is based on three linked capabilities:

  • Surveillance - effective surveillance of infectious disease is an important element of the public health system in Scotland. It involves gathering and interpreting data to understand where infection is occurring, and the effect it is having on people’s health. In turn, it allows us to monitor and assess how well the steps that are taken to limit infections, are working. This information is used to quickly detect outbreaks and help make decisions about how to respond and control the spread.
  • Early warning - through Test and Protect, the timely identification and isolation of contacts allows us to break the chains of transmission. Combined with effective and reliable surveillance that provides information about clusters of cases, it helps us develop an early warning system that will inform our response and help us to contain any outbreaks that occur.
  • Control - We have tried and tested approaches to managing outbreaks of infectious disease in Scotland. The Scottish Covid-19 Workbook aims to encourage a widely shared understanding of these procedures and explain everyone’s responsibilities, what will be expected of them, and who will be making which decisions in relation to infection prevention and outbreak control. Decisions may include application of practical actions to control the outbreak, including identifying groups for isolation or temporary protective measures.

An outbreak might be identified through, for example, analysis of Test and Protect data; identification of two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a setting such as a workplace within 14 days; an increase in the rate of absence due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19; an increase in the rate of respiratory illness in a setting as this could be due to COVID-19.

In such circumstances the local NHS Health Protection Team (HPT) should be contacted. The HPT will assume responsibility for managing the situation and will conduct an initial assessment. They may decide that the outbreak is contained and offer advice. If there is a risk that the outbreak might escalate then a meeting of relevant parties will be convened to understand the issues, risks and actions that may be required. Depending on the nature and extent of the outbreak, a number of meetings may be required until the outbreak can be declared over. Details of the processes involved can be found in the Scottish Covid-19 Workbook.


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