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Introduction

Social distancing guidance at St George's, University of London has been produced to outline St George's response to the novel coronavirus for all staff and students continuing on the site and during the new National Restrictions beginning 5 November 2020. Government's advice can be found here.

This updated guidance reflects the advice in the previous guidance with additional requirements outlining areas where face covering must now be worn. How to declare an area as ‘Covid secure’ as defined by the UK government and the social distancing guidance remains the same, to maintain the 2 metre social distancing wherever possible and if this cannot be maintained/guaranteed, to follow the Government 1m+ guidance where a face covering must also be worn.

This document pertains to the measures put in place to ensure staff and students can return to campus and work safely. It will also cover how these processes can be implemented in the long term to ensure compliance for the foreseeable future. St George’s will continue to operate as it has been, as we have done careful planning to maintain safe operations and have continued to adapt to align with the latest guidance.

The government released updated guidance for offices and contact centres, labs and research facilities, restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services, shops and branches on 5 November 2020.

This guidance exists in addition to all current policies and guidance. All other St George's health and safety policies and guidelines must still be followed.

The University will continue to provide services which are essential to continuing research and education, including the relevant educational facilities to students. All on-site skills-based teaching which is scheduled during this period will continue as planned.

General advice to minimise risk associated with Covid-19 is as follows:

  • Staff who deliver these essential services and who cannot do their jobs from home will be expected to continue to work on site. Measures to ensure the site is Covid secure will continue to be in place.  
  • Research staff should continue to conduct and supervise research onsite; however, work which can be done effectively at home, such as writing up, should be done at home.  
  • For other staff, any work which can be done effectively at home should be done at home.  
  • Any in-person research activity requiring gathering with others eg. meeting with research participants should be paused for the period of national restrictions.
  • University work/study places are being made safe by following COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
  • Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are strongly advised to work from home. If you cannot work from home, you should not attend work for the period of restrictions Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable can be found here.  If vulnerable individuals need to return to site, an individual risk assessment evaluating fitness to return should be completed and discussed with their Line Manager/Course Leads. All individuals undertaking clinical placements will be required to complete an individual risk assessment sent to them by Course Admin Teams. Further advice may be obtained from course admin teams and HR. It remains the Institution’s responsibility for the health and safety of all staff and students and this responsibility cannot be delegated to individual staff /student members to decide when/how/if they return to campus. Willingness to return to campus does not automatically mean they should. 
  • Individuals must self-isolate if they have even mild symptoms of Covid-19, or are a household contact of someone who has been symptomatic. Anyone with symptoms should obtain a test through the government Test and Trace system. Members of staff who work in education (teacher/ support staff), are entitled to priority testing. Tests can be booked online or ordered by telephone via NHS 119 for those without access to the internet.
  • Wash hands regularly with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Coughs and sneezes should be covered with a tissue (or into the elbow if no tissue available) and disposed of immediately followed by the washing of hands. Everyone must maintain social distancing of 2m at all times where possible.  If this cannot be maintained/guaranteed, then you should follow the Government 1m+ guidance where a face covering must also be worn. If this advice cannot be followed in full, a risk assessment is required to identify other mitigating actions.
  • Meetings should continue to be carried out via MS Teams, and not face-to-face, wherever possible.

Assume everyone you see is infected, including yourself, and use appropriate precautions, including not touching your face and washing your hands often.

Face Coverings

Face coverings are now required on all public transport, public areas, if walking through the hospital,  shops and where food or drink is purchased at a take-away outlet.

Government guidance indicates that during National Restrictions beginning 5 November 2020, you should wear a face covering at all times in all learning environments and enclosed public spaces where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. Therefore, you must wear face coverings in all common parts/spaces of the University, this includes, the main Foyers, The Street, Library, Common Rooms, the Halls of Residence (but not individual flats). Once inside your learning environment, be that a teaching space, library or laboratory, face coverings should continue be used unless otherwise advised.

For staff, once inside an office space, where the area meets Covid-secure guidelines and 2m distancing can be confidently maintained you are not required to wear a face covering.   However, if 2m distancing cannot be maintained, face coverings must be worn in accordance with the Government 1m+ rule. (see FAQs here). 

A face covering is not the same as a face mask, the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment (PPE) by healthcare and other workers. Face coverings may be disposable or reusable.

For the full advice on wearing face coverings please refer to a document called ‘Guidance for St George’s Staff and Students on the use of Face coverings and face masks’. 

Physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene, are the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Therefore, the wearing of facial coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions.  

When applying or removing the covering, it is important that you wash your hands first and avoid touching your face. After each use, if the face covering is not disposable it must be washed at 60 °C . If the face covering needs to be disposed of it should be placed in a domestic waste bin but not in the recycling bin.

Cloth face coverings should:  

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops;  
  • Include multiple layers of fabric where possible;  
  • Allow for breathing without restriction (however face coverings should not be used by people with respiratory conditions);  
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.  

The Government has published guidance on how to make your own face coverings

There are also videos available demonstrating how to make a covering, for instance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPx1yqvJgf4 or https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52609777 

Government’s official advice on personal protective equipment (PPE), other than face coverings, is that additional PPE beyond what is usually worn in the lab/workplace is not beneficial in managing the risk of Covid-19. This is because Covid-19 is a different type of risk to the risks staff normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of additional PPE.

Access to and exit from buildings

Where safe to do so, the use of just one door for general access and one door for general egress to help control the flow of people in and out of your work area should be considered. This has already been considered for the Hunter entrance and signage is in place to show routes (floor plans). Consideration should be given to using corridors and doorways that were not previously used for access (pre Covid-19) to help facilitate social distancing through buildings (shared labs/offices).

Fire doors will all remain operational as per normal (pre Covid-19) circumstances and therefore only used in emergencies.

At all entrance points to buildings, signs are in place to remind persons of the social distancing that is expected to be adhered to. It may be necessary to regulate entry by the Security Team so that the premises do not become overcrowded. Use of additional signage has been posted to ask people not to enter the premises if they have symptoms.

Hand sanitisers have been made available at access points and within buildings, everyone is encouraged to use these.

Hand washing

In all cases, everyone needs to respect good hygiene, making a conscious effort to wash hands effectively.

Key Times to Wash Hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • Before exiting the laboratory
  • After using the toilet
  • After contact with high touch surfaces (e.g. lifts, lobby areas, reception desks, etc.)
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After removing gloves or other personal protective equipment.
  • After touching an animal or animal waste
  • After touching rubbish

The official NHS technique of hand washing is available via a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGJNspLRdrc and also Figure 1 below:

Figure 1 - NHS hand-washing technique with soap and water

Figure 1 - NHS hand-washing technique with soap and water

Corridors/Staircases/Lifts

Maintaining social distancing in the corridors of buildings will involve several factors. Where possible, a one-way system has been designed, to be followed when moving around the buildings.

Signage has been placed at regular intervals along corridors, reminding everyone to maintain a distance of at least 2m from others. In sections of corridors where queues are likely to form (e.g. outside teapoints, toilets etc.), corridors may be marked at 2m intervals to ensure social distancing is maintained whilst queueing.

The use of lifts in buildings should be avoided at all times where possible and used only by disabled individuals, or for the transport of large/heavy/hazardous materials where transport on stairways would not be possible or safe.  Hunter Wing stairs opposite Peabodys is the 'up route' only, whilst stairs opposite the main reception is the 'down route' only (see floor plans for more information). Where staircases are narrow and passing would result in close proximity a verbal alert procedure (i.e. shouting "Is anyone using this stairwell?") should be practiced before using a stairwell to ensure there is not another person already using it.

Service Desks

At St George's customer facing services e.g. receptions, library services, print services have appropriate queuing arrangements. We ask all staff, students and visitors to respect these arrangements.  They are clearly laid out, for example where to queue from, tape (or similar) on the floor to keep 2m between individuals as they queue, with clear signage. Railing or tape are being used where longer queues are likely to form (Figure 2).

Railing/tape to enable social distancing while queueing

Figure 2 - Railing/tape to enable social distancing while queueing

To prevent staff/students coming too close to desks, temporary barriers such as rope and post rails are in place to better enforce social distancing.

For those staff working behind the desks and therefore at a higher risk of infection by coronavirus due to unavoidable face to face contact, the University has provided appropriate screening, such as Perspex screen. The Estates and Facilities Team have installed screens to receptions desks. Staff working in any other areas that may require a screen should contact Estates and Facilities (estates@sgul.ac.uk). The University will not replace damaged furniture or infrastructure where screw holes and or similar have been made for such fixings.

Open plan/communal offices

Many staff work in open offices which make social distancing guidelines difficult to implement under normal practice. To overcome this, staff should communicate with their teams to facilitate the implementation of social distancing.

Only staff that cannot work from home should be coming onto the site, or staff involved in service delivery (e.g. Library).

A work rota may be appropriate, reducing the number of staff in an area at any one time. Shift work may be practical, or staggered start and finish times so that unnecessary face to face contact is reduced. Another option is splitting staff into teams, limiting the number of different people workers can encounter. Scenarios across directorates and institutes will differ. Under normal working conditions, staff may need to pass others at a distance of less than 2m to get to their desks, and systems such as those suggested here aim to minimise the risk associated with Covid-19. Hot desking is not recommended.

Government guidelines specifically state:

  • Where it is not possible to remain 2m apart, staff should work side by side, or facing away from each other (e.g. back-to-back), rather than face to face if possible.
  • Where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible.
  • As much as possible, keep teams of staff together, and keep teams as small as possible.

Figure 3 shows a typical four worker station. It would be most appropriate to limit areas such as these to one person to ensure compliance with social distancing.

Typical four worker station layout at reduced capacity

Figure 3 - Typical four worker station layout at reduced capacity

Where larger desk areas are in place, staff should be staggered as illustrated in Figure 4. Where maintaining the recommended 2m separation during passing is not possible, working back-to-back or the addition of a screen between desks and the removal of seats (red crosses in Figure 4) will allow for social distancing to be observed.

Suggested staggered working position arrangement where chairs are removed to allow person A to access desk behind screen

Figure 4 - Suggested staggered working position arrangement where chairs are removed to allow person A to access desk behind screen

Communal Teapoints

Government advice is that everyone should bring in their own food and drink to work if required.

Many areas in both Jenner and Hunter Wings have small, communal teapoints for use by members of staff and research students. To ensure social distancing measures are adhered to, communal teapoints must employ a 'one out, one in' procedure, with no more than one person being in the area at any time.

In the case of larger teapoints floor markings at 2m intervals may be employed to allow for a well-spaced queue within the teapoint area. Any individuals who would fall outside the maximum occupancy of a teapoint should form a queue in the adjoining corridor, with the start of the queue being set 2m away from the entrance to the teapoint area to allow individuals to exit the area whilst maintaining a 2m distance from those who are still queueing.

Social distancing signs.

Figure 5 - Signage at tea points

Prior to the handling of communal items in the teapoint, such as kettles and cutlery, everyone should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds in accordance with government guidance to prevent contamination of surfaces.

Everyone is strongly encouraged to bring in their own food and drink, which can be stored in communal fridges, thus reducing the need to use the teapoints. If the use of the teapoint is required, each user is responsible for cleaning after themselves. Cutlery/mugs etc. must be washed thoroughly using soap and warm water, dried using a paper towel and put away immediately to reduce the risk of transfer of contamination to other persons. Dishwashers will be switched off. Estates and Facilities will provide cleaning products. To enable social distancing and ensure areas can stagger lunchtimes, staff should use the facilities nearest to them and not travel to others. This would enable managers within each area to ensure their staff remain as safe as possible.

In addition, consideration should also be given to staggering mealtimes to avoid crowding. Managers should discuss this within their own teams and with managers of other teams.

Toilets

Toilet facilities across the buildings differ greatly, ranging from single, lockable toilets to larger communal facilities.

Single/accessible facilities

In the case of single, lockable facilities, everyone is urged to leave the facility in a respectable condition. If waiting to use such a facility, ensure standing at least 2m from the door to allow the previous occupant the appropriate space to leave without breaking social distance guidelines.

Communal/multi-occupancy facilities

For the majority of communal toilets on campus, it is envisaged that maintaining social distancing may be difficult. Consequently, all communal toilets will display the signage on social distancing and individuals should act responsibly when entering these areas. 

In addition, a sign on the inside of the door will remind users of good hand washing practice, considering that this will be a higher risk area with contact on the doors by all users.

If there is a case where social distancing cannot be maintained, and there is a justifiable need for multiple occupancy, the University's SHE Office must be contacted to discuss and review this.

Teaching/Study Spaces

In line with government advice for the National Restriction period starting on November 5th 2020 face covering should be worn at all times in all learning environments (unless otherwise advised).

The maximum occupancy of teaching rooms will be indicated on the entry door and must not be exceeded.  A teaching rota may be appropriate, reducing the number of staff/students in an area at any one time or staggered start and finish times so that unnecessary face to face contact is reduced.  Please ensure that you adhere to teaching timetabling to enable these mitigating actions to be effective.

Where it is not possible to remain 2m apart, staff /students should work/sit side by side, or facing away from each other (e.g. back-to-back), rather than face to face if possible.

  • Where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible.
  • As much as possible, keep teams of students together, and keep teams as small as possible.

For some teaching/study spaces (e.g. clinical cubicles/library) specific operating procedures will be put in place and this may include additional PPE requirements.  Staff and students should ensure that they have read and adhere to the guidance for these areas. 

Laboratories

In line with government advice for the National Restriction period starting on November 52020,  face covering should be worn in all learning environments including laboratories. For some Laboratory spaces specific operating procedures will be put in place and this may include additional PPE requirements.  Staff and students should ensure that they have read and adhere to the guidance for these areas.

This guidance is in addition to standard Health and Safety guidance. A risk assessment must be completed for each laboratory area together with Local Rules.  These should be reviewed every 6 months

In all laboratories the maximum occupancy of the room should be set at no more than 25% of the normal maximum occupancy. Work should be carried out in shifts, and in the minimum time possible to allow the maximum number of workers to access a space, whilst maintaining a minimum number of persons working at any given time. Working space should be vacated upon completion of work, or where any significant period of delay is expected (e.g. a 3-hour experiment is running, and no other work can be completed during this time). During shorter periods of delay (e.g. a 30-minute experiment is running, and no other work can be completed during this time) the area should be vacated at the discretion of the worker, using consideration for other persons who may require the use of the space.

Where bay systems are in place, there should be no more than one person per half bay (maximum two people per full bay). Where multiple points of access and exit to the laboratory are present, a one-way system should be implemented, with certain doors being designated for entry only and others for exit only (Figure 6).

One way open plan laboratory guidance

Figure 6 - Suggested one-way systems for open plan laboratories

If applicable and where possible, wide (greater than 2m) footways in bay-system laboratories should be marked into two 'lanes' to allow for movement in both directions, with researchers always keeping to the left. Where this is not possible, a communication approach should be maintained between all occupants in a workspace, so movement of one individual can occur in either direction whilst others remain within the bays and maintain the 2m minimum distancing. All workers in bay-system laboratories should work at least 2m from any primary footways, and work facing away from the central reservation of a bay where possible to minimise any face-to-face contact between persons.

In an emergency, e.g. if a spillage of a toxic chemical in a lab resulted in the blockage of a designated exit route of a one-way system outlined in this guidance, no one should attempt to cross the spill to evacuate the area. The use of another, non-designated route would be permissible as the risk associated with the spill would likely be higher than that of using a non-designated route. An attempt should still be made to ensure a 2m distance between individuals evacuating by the new route.

Individual group leaders/principal investigators will be responsible for the local rota/shift pattern working of their teams.  In shared laboratories, PIs should jointly co-ordinate their how laboratory space will be managed. Oversight of these arrangements will be via local safety committees.

Laboratory users will need to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (e.g. tables, benches, computer keyboards) regularly to maintain a visibly clean state (no obvious soiling, smearing, or streaks):

  • Keep a cleaning schedule to maintain general housekeeping to prevent build-up of dirt and clutter.
  • For laboratory surfaces touched by multiple workers, clean and disinfect on a frequent schedule, or between workers.
  • Wipe down shared equipment after each use.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for use of all cleaning and disinfecting products.

Cleaning products should be ordered through the usual route and can be collected from the Site Services.

 

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