The UK Government’s efforts to bring the country out of lock-down in a safe way includes extensive guidance for different kinds of workplace. Although organisations are expected to think through the risks and how to prepare in their own particular context, tailored guidance for different kinds of work environment aims to provide a practical framework to support this process.
The guidance for labs and research facilities is intended to cover the following kinds of workplace:
- engineering centres
- clean rooms
- prototyping centres
- wet labs
- wind tunnels
- computer labs
- material development labs
- specialist testing rooms
There is a lot of detail for organisations to absorb, but the guidance is targeted and practical.
As might be expected, the first step is to carry out a risk assessment. This need not be a bureaucratic exercise – very small organisations are not expected to do it in writing – although detailed engagement with workers is required. Larger organisations will need to consult with a health and safety representative selected by a trade union or (where there isn’t a trade union) a representative chosen by the workers, and businesses with more than 50 workers are expected to publish the results of such risk assessments on their websites.
Risk management steps such as handwashing and surface cleaning, working from home and social distancing take a high priority. The guidance recognises difficulties of maintaining 2m distancing, around fixed equipment for example, and offers advice on what steps might be undertaken in these circumstances. It goes on to detail ventilation management operations to be considered prior to the reopening of business premises, as well as recommending ongoing cleaning procedures to reduce the risk of infection from commonly used equipment, communal areas, frequent touch points and commercial vehicles.
Implementing the guidance in detail will require extensive planning and preparation. It is likely to involve additional costs in relation to the installation of one-way flows at entry and exit points, hygiene and waste facilities, transparent screens in confined areas and, possibly, providing personal protective equipment (and related safety instructions) for staff.
Some suggested changes may be more difficult. Getting staff to and from work, providing additional car or cycle parking and appropriately managing external deliveries are likely to present greater challenges. Further action may be required to minimise the costs of reduced staff activity time or staggered shifts where necessary.
However, many of the suggested changes will not be costly to implement and will enable organisations to have confidence that they can continue their lab research activities without adversely affecting their staff and external contacts.