Guidance for face-to-face activities in laboratories and in specialist instrumentation areas

1. Background Context:

1.1 This guidance is for staff supporting face-to-face activities in laboratories and specialist instrumentation areas in teaching, learning and research during the COVID-19 pandemic. It outlines the measure staff should take to protect themselves and others and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, whilst ensuring that teaching, learning and research activities in these specialist facilities can continue safely.

1.2 Types of laboratories and specialist instrumentation areas included in this guidance cover:

  • Analytical and Quality Laboratories
  • Biological Sciences Laboratories
  • Clinical and Medical Laboratories
  • Production Laboratories
  • Engineering centres
  • Clean rooms
  • Wet and Dry labs
  • Computer labs
  • Simulators
  • Material development labs
  • Specialist testing rooms

1.3 This guidance should be read in conjunction with all other University health and safety policies and procedures. Working with Health and Safety all laboratories and specialist instrumentation areas across the University have been risk assessed and approved with new COVID capacity arrangements and measures for safe practices.

1.4 Central timetabling will hold maximum laboratory capacities for teaching at 2 meters, or 1 meter plus where required, to ensure social distancing is maintained. Schools operating specialist non-timetabled laboratories or instrumentation areas including preparation rooms will hold maximum capacities at local level.

1.5 This guidance recognises the varying difference of activities in laboratories and specialist instrumentation areas across the different disciplines and locations across the Colleges. It cannot be assumed a standard practices is applicable for all settings. Technical Services Managers with specialist knowledge and skills for their areas have been working closely with their Schools and with advice from Health and Safety in completing risk assessments for teaching, learning and research activities. It is recommended Technical Service Managers (or equivalent) with Health and Safety Business Partners continue to review and update risk assessments for laboratory and specialist instrumentation areas with representatives from the following as and when new COVID safe measures are introduced or updated in accordance with UK Government guidelines for the control of COVID-19.

  • Technical Specialists (i.e. Experimental Officers where required)
  • Teaching and learning (i.e. course convenor where required) and
  • Operational Managers with responsibilities for managing building capacities

2. New COVID Safe Working Measures:

2.1 COVID risk assessments for laboratories and specialist instrumentation areas have:

  • Reviewed the number of people that can realistically and safely be accommodated while maintaining social distancing
  • Assessed the flow of people and identified where required one-way paths or booking systems
  • Assessed procedures for cleaning, hygiene and sanitizing commonly shared equipment and areas—for example, counters, benchtops, and desks—to ensure clean surfaces and equipment for all users
  • Assessed additional PPE requirements including appropriate face coverings for safe working with Hazardous substances
  • Reviewed signage for COVID safe measures for appropriate display of minimum capacities, visible on arrival

2.2 Completed risk assessment will be stored by Technical Services Managers or Operations Managers in appropriate accessible areas in Schools i.e. Building Safety Committees. Health and Safety are able to request this document for review or update at any time.

2.3 Staff returning to campus will complete COVID-19 Health and Safety University training, read through the outcomes of risk assessments for their laboratories or specialist instrumentation areas issued by Technical Service Managers or Operational Managers (with responsibility for managing building capacities) and agree dates and times for arriving and leaving campus. Where required, induction to specialist areas or facilities may be required as part of returning to campus for students and staff.

2.4 All staff will receive a personal hygiene pack at the start of term containing hand sanitiser, gloves, a face covering and sanitising wipes. Visors will be provided in addition to face coverings or as an alternative, which will be assessed with line managers as part of return to campus discussions.

2.5 If staff have developed symptoms of coronavirus or have tested positive for coronavirus, or have been in close contact with someone who has symptoms or who has tested positive for coronavirus, should not attend campus. Staff are advised to follow NHS guidance. You should self-isolate following government guidance and request a test or call 119.

2.6 If staff on campus require urgent emergency assistance, activate the emergency button on SafeZone or call the University security emergency number 0116 252 2888. Staff should inform their line manager, supervisor or Head of School, and complete the University’s online form if symptoms appear or if a case of coronavirus is confirmed. Report any sickness absence through Employee Self-Service in the usual way and advise the line manager of awaiting tests. Line manager should also be notified of any other staff members, students or other people that have been in contact. If the test is positive, use the NHS test and trace service and complete the University’s online form.

2.7 Staff should review the following checklist as an aide memoire for supporting face-to-face teaching, learning and research activities in laboratories or specialist instrumentation areas.

  1. I know how to behave in COVID-safe ways in the laboratory or in specialist instrumentation area and I am able to point to COVID safe measures to advise other students and staff.
  2. I am aware of COVID-safe flow of staff and students in buildings and spaces, e.g. one-way system and how to use the booking systems, where required.
  3. I am familiar with furniture reconfigured in a way that students and staff can maintain social distancing.
  4. I know what to do to maintain adequate means of ventilation / fresh air in the laboratory or in specialist instrumentation area e.g. signs for keeping windows open.
  5. I am able to point to clearly labelled entry and exit points into rooms and building to direct students and staff as required.
  6. I know the maximum capacity for the space I am working in and able to advice others on social distancing.
  7. I am clear with the staggered entry/exit times into laboratory or in specialist instrumentation area and buildings.
  8. I am able to direct students to avoid queuing and clustering according to signage displayed.
  9. I am able to support academic staff that will need to provide clear instructions to students not to remain in the laboratory or in specialist instrumentation areas once class or demonstration is completed.
  10. I am able to support instructions to students about maintaining social distancing at all times and reduce un-necessary movement around the laboratory or in the specialist instrumentation area.
  11. I am able to direct students and staff to sanitising/cleaning stations and I know who to report to for additional or replacement stock.
  12. I am clear with PPE requirements for safe working with others in the laboratory or in a specialist instrumentation area and I know how who to report concerns too quickly and effectively.
  13. I will wear my face coverings (masks, visors or both) at all times. If face coverings cannot be worn, I know who to report this to and agree safe mitigating measures as room capacity may need to change if social distancing is not maintained.
  14. I am able to provide guidance on what to do in the event of a fire alarm going off and if a student or staff member requires first aid.
  15. I am clear with the cleaning schedule in place and I am able to advise students and staff of arrangements.
  16. I am aware of protocols for shared use of communal equipment, such as ensuring its use by only one person at a time, use of PPE and appropriate cleaning regimes between users.
  17. I am able to advice on the responsibility for cleaning of equipment and labs; training on cleaning down of specialist equipment - shared and single usage and cleaning of labs after each practical class session.
  18. I know how to request availability of COVID related supplies e.g. disposable face coverings, cleaning supplies, etc.
  19. I am aware which lockers are available to me or I have a designated area to store lab coats and personal belongings.
  20. I know what to do to use IT and AV resources safely with sensitization measures and I am able to advise students and staff to do so.

2.8 This checklist is reviewed at the point of updating risk assessments jointly with Health and Safety and Operational Managers to ensure any additional or specific requirements at school- local level knowledge is incorporated into this list. Examples may include arrangement of shared equipment, special arrangements for areas with enhanced ventilation such as fume cupboards, etc. 

Resources available:

COVID Response Resource Hub

Safe teaching and other face-to-face student contact on campus during COVID-19