By Ayisha I. A. Malik, Cole-Parmer, EMEA
Implement screenings, hand washing, cleanliness, and social distancing
Many countries across the globe are currently emerging from lockdown and preparing to head back into the workplace. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is still spreading through the population and it is not yet possible to eliminate the risk of COVID-19. Therefore, you need to quickly implement measures to protect the health and safety of all returning workers.
Returning to the workplace?
The COVID-19 lockdown caused many of you to simply abandon their research and other associated activities. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have posted “decision tools” highlighting what organisations should consider before reopening. Additionally, the UK government have released a special set of instructions to address particular needs of the scientific and research community.
Everyone is still susceptible to COVID-19, but it poses an extra threat for those clinically vulnerable; these individuals should continue to work from home. Although it is not easy to conduct research remotely; today, technologically advanced tools can provide deeper access into ongoing experiments unlike ever before.
1. Screen employees and visitors
Despite being extremely contagious, COVID-19 does not always debilitate individuals, at least not instantly. Workers and visitors may well be going about their day with a budding infection in their lungs, shedding contagious particles into their surroundings. It is, therefore, crucial to screen and monitor developing symptoms and record contact between members of the workforce. Select a reliable IR forehead thermometer.
2. Encourage hand washing often
Hand hygiene has been the first port of call for COVID-19 prevention during this pandemic. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that provisions for proper hand hygiene are detailed in all back-to-work guidelines. It is important that you are equipped with hand washing and drying facilities – soap, water and paper towels or electric hand dryers. When such washing necessities cannot be provided, high saturation alcohol-based hand sanitisers should be made accessible across multiple locations around your building.
3. Increase cleaning routines
A thorough cleaning routine is the next piece of the puzzle in keeping the COVID-19 infection from spreading through your workforce. A clear schedule, with frequent cleaning of communal spaces, work areas, and equipment between uses needs to be set and regularly revised, based on monitoring information and staff feedback. In case COVID-19 cases are confirmed or suspected within your team, guidelines for thorough cleaning can also be found on the UK government website or your local government or health organisation website. Make sure you are using the proper cleaning solutions as well.
Determining similar cleaning and sanitisation processes for expensive equipment that cannot be washed down also needs to be established. Additionally, all members of your staff could be given disinfectant wipes to clean buttons, levers and surfaces of shared machinery before and after each use.
4. Add social distancing in all areas
Social distancing rules need to be implemented for both work areas and communal spaces. However, UK guidelines highlight that during emergencies and evacuations, these rules need not be followed. Supplying staff with safety apparel, such as masks and other suitable Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), could provide additional protection during such emergencies.
Every lab should also be rearranged; so, workers can maintain suitable social distancing, with benches either placed side-by-side or back-to-back. If that is not possible, face shields could provide additional protection against respiratory particles.
Stocking each station with its own set of equipment and supplies is critical in minimising the need for sharing. Many small apparatus such as timers, thermometers, pipettors, hotplates, and microcentrifuges are already found on most workstations and adding items such as benchtop incubators, refrigerators and waste disposal units can further reduce the need to share or move around the lab. Products that utilise IoT or IR technology can also offer a reduced need for sharing without necessarily providing individual gadgets and tools for each scientist.
Many scientists also spend long hours indoors, which means despite social distancing, the air they breathe in could fill with respiratory particles by the end of the day. It is, therefore, advisable to check and adjust ventilation systems before employees return to work. Furthermore, routinely sampling the indoor air quality would not only provide an insight into the efficiency of ventilation systems but also make sure suitable measures can be taken to ensure safety.
Take precautions and mitigate risk
As we experience the first wave of COVID-19 lessen, we must remember that despite insistent research into the pathogen and the disease, there is still much we do not know about it. There is an imminent risk of a second peak; and until we have an effective vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we must take all feasible precautions to protect ourselves, our co-workers and those near and dear to us.
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