Lab Occupancy Under COVID-19 Conditions

This EH&S policy provides guidance for safe working operations to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in campus laboratories.

On this page:

1. Purpose

Provide guidance for safe working operations to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the laboratory.

2. Scope

This policy applies to all faculty, staff, and students occupying laboratory spaces owned or leased by the university. Visitors are not allowed in labs.

3. Applicable Codes

OSHA 1910.132 – Standard for Personal Protective Equipment - Employers should provide personal protective to employees at no charge with some exceptions. Homemade face coverings are considered “ordinary clothing”. The department does not have to reimburse employees who voluntarily brings in their own cloth face covering to work. The university will provide one cloth face covering for each person returning to campus. Individual labs are responsible for PPE required to perform laboratory activities.

4. Applicable Guidelines

NYS Executive Order 202.16, PPE - Employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE).

NYS Executive Order 202.17, Masks - Any individual who is able to tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face covering when in a public place when not able to maintain social distance.

5. Responsibilities

Department

  • Adhere to the highest standards for the safe operation of the laboratory and protection of employees, students, and visitors. This includes all department/laboratory rules and precautions about working alone, lab work environment, time at work, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).  
  • The Department must provide PPE to their employees.

Principal Investigators

  • Must enforce this policy.  
  • Determine if respiratory protection for an N95 mask or respirator is needed in consultation with EH&S. Fit testing, maintenance, care and training in the Respiratory Protection Standard is required prior to donning an N95 mask.  
  • Develop Standard Operating Protocols (SOP). All SOPs must be compliant with existing Executive Orders issued by Federal, State, and Local governments with respect to social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment.  
  • Seek guidance from EH&S.

Lab Personnel

  • It is important to take your temperature before arriving to work to monitor your baseline temperature for changes. If you are feeling sick or experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 (fever, cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue), cease work and immediately vacate the laboratory. Contact your primary care physician and principal investigator or supervisor. 
  • If you will be absent for an extended period of time (greater than 3 days), Human Resources (716-645-7777) must be contacted.  
  • Must receive and understand safety training appropriate to their level of activity in the laboratory. Face coverings must be worn when interacting with the public (e.g. deliveries). Do not come into the laboratory if you are sick.

6. Definitions

Social Distance – Maintaining a distance of 6 feet from another person. 

Handwashing – Thoroughly cleaning hands (backs of hands, in between fingers, under fingernails, thumbs) with soap for at least 20 seconds.

Face Covering – A well-secured paper (e.g. dust mask) or cloth (bandana, scarf) that covers your nose and mouth.  A face covering is designed to minimize the spread of the wearer’s germs to surrounding people and surfaces. It is not intended to provide protection from chemicals or small airborne particles.

Large Gatherings – For the purposes of this policy, more than 10 people as per NYS Executive Orders. The number of people is subject to change as new information becomes available.

7. Procedures

Preparing

  1. Confirm stock of PPE (gloves, glasses, face shields) on site.  PPE should be ordered by the Department and maintained by PI. The PPE (masks and gloves) should be available for all lab personnel. Personal masks and gloves should not be shared between users. If a respirator or N95 is needed for work related duties, unrelated to COVID-19, contact Environment, Health and Safety for guidance.
  2. Secure PPE if necessary, to prevent theft.
  3. Conduct meetings and non-lab specific training via teleconference (e.g. Zoom).
  4. Refer to Laboratory Ramp-Up Checklist for additional information.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

  1. Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting, focusing on high-touch surfaces and shared items (equipment, tools, telephone, keyboards, etc.) before each use. Lab personnel should use disposable wipes or paper towels sprayed with ethanol or isopropanol. While working, gloves may be decontaminated with 70% ethanol or isopropanol (not applicable for radioactive material use) as supplied in spray bottle. These alcohols are known to increase pore size in latex gloves thus decreasing the protective effectiveness.
  2. Lab occupants should do frequent handwashing with soap for at least 20 seconds throughout the day after you have touched your eyes, nose, mouth and frequently touched items or surfaces (e.g. door handles, telephone, computer, desks, faucets, lab equipment and tools, etc).
  3. Refer to Laboratory Ramp-Up Checklist for additional information.

Working in the Laboratory

  1. Rotate staff to limit the number of personnel in the lab (e.g. assign minimal staff to make media, set up cultures, etc. before beginning full research).
  2. Assign tasks to limit the number of people in common areas (e.g. balance room, clean room).
  3. Instrumentation training within the Core facilities is at the discretion of the Core Manager. Contact the Core Manager for more information. 
    1. If a technique is to be demonstrated in person, the demonstrator and student should wear splash goggles or face shields, gloves and face masks. Physical distancing should be adhered to when possible.   
  4. Avoid performing high-risk procedures alone in the lab. Standard Operating Protocol and hazard assessment should be developed to identify the risk level. Consult Environment, Health and Safety if needed.
  5. Any individual working in the laboratory should have a process in place to suspend their work if they believe their health or safety is at risk. The issue must be reported immediately to the principal investigator for a quick resolution.
  6. Lab personnel must do the following upon entering the laboratory:
  • Wash their hands for at least 20 seconds
  • Don gloves (latex or nitrile)
  • Wear face coverings
  • Wear lab coats
  • While working, gloves may be decontaminated with 70% ethanol or isopropanol (not applicable for radioactive material use) as supplied in spray bottle. These alcohols are known to increase pore size in latex gloves thus decreasing the protective effectiveness.

7. Lab personnel must do the following before exiting the laboratory:

  • Remove gloves and discard in appropriate waste container
  • Wash hands prior to leaving the facility

Equipment Use

  1. Only ONE user per instrument or equipment at any time and social distancing guidelines must be followed.
  2. Initiate a calendar reservation system to enforce a fixed time between equipment reservations to create a time and space separation between consecutive users.
  3. Any activities which could result in aerosolization of potentially contaminated materials are prohibited. However, because accidental splashing is still a possibility, users must wear face coverings while working with other personnel in the lab.

4. Users of Flow Cytometers:

  • Wipe down the cytometer controls with ethanol wetted wipes before starting session.
  • Lay pieces of plastic film across the keyboard and mouse.
  • After your session, wipe down the instrument again and discard the plastic film.
  • Dispose of wipes in the trash
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds

5. Users of Microscopes:

  • Wipe down the microscopy controls with ethanol wetted wipes before starting your session.
  • Use pieces of plastic film to cover the microscope eyepieces and computer keyboard and mouse.
  • After your session, wipe down the instrument again and discard the plastic film.
  • Dispose of wipes in the trash
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds

6. Users of other Equipment (e.g. balance, dry bath, orbital shaker, etc.):

  • Wipe down the instrument surfaces and controls with ethanol wetted wipes before using.
  • Lay pieces of plastic film across the keyboard, touchpad or buttons if applicable.
  • After your session, wipe down the instrument again and discard the plastic film.
  • Dispose of wipes in the trash
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds

Other

1. If you receive an expedited package and are concerned about possible surface contamination: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, after removing gloves (and you touch your face, shared items, surfaces) and before you leave the lab.
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth 
  • Spray package with 70% ethanol or let sit for 3 days prior to opening

2. Social Distancing of six feet should be practiced in designated common areas. Food and drink shall not be shared.

3. Refer to the Laboratory Ramp-Up Checklist for additional information.

8. Document Management

This procedure shall be reviewed as changes require.

9. Associated UB Documents

Commitment to Health and Safety in the Working and Learning Environment Policy; Office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration; April 28, 2016.

10. Associated EH&S Documents

11. Document Revision History

Original Draft: 5/13/2020

Updated: 5/22/2020