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1. Introduction 

Whilst essential staff have been on site since lockdown, the government announcement on Sunday 10 May indicated that from Wednesday 13 May, people in England who "can't work from home" will be "actively encouraged to go to work" and further advice issued on Monday 11 May indicated that this applied to “scientific research in laboratories”.  Under Higher Education England essential worker guidance, some postgraduate students (Physicians Associate) who need to complete placements on NHS sites will also return to site. St George’s University of London would like to recommence lab-based research and allow research staff and specific groups of postgraduate students back by 1 June (Phase 1).   

Our priority is to ensure the safety of staff working in labs and postgraduate students and to safeguard public health and the NHS.  In line with government guidance aiming to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, staff and postgraduate students should therefore comply with Covid-19 control procedures outlined below. 

NOTE: This guidance will change as further phases for return are implemented and specific instructions may change as public health advice is updated. 

2. Overarching Principles Phase 1 (this has now been superseded by the phase 3 overarching principles)

We propose these principles to guide how we organise return to work:   

  1. Any work that can be done at home, should be done at home.  

  1. Shielding, extremely vulnerable and vulnerable staff/students should work at home wherever possible in line with government advice. 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.  Further advice should be obtained from Occupational Health and HR. It remains the Institution’s responsibility for the health and safety of all staff 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.  

  1. Individuals must self-isolate if they have even mild symptoms of Covid-19, or are a household contact of someone who has been symptomatic. 

  1. Staff and students should minimise use of public transport as far as possible; if it is necessary to use public transport, try to arrange work so that travel can be at off-peak times.   

  1. Travel into St George’s must be for lab work/placement only. Staff should go directly to their laboratory/place of work and not linger on site, write up should be done at home. 

  1. Line Managers and Course Leads will facilitate staff and students to organise their work to enable social distancing but individuals must also take personal responsibility. Where it is not possible to organise work to maintain social distancing then careful consideration must be given as to whether or not this activity should proceed. If it must then additional precautions must be identified to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. 

  1. Staff and students are advised to bring their own food and drink to work if required. 

  1. Staff and students must wash their hands with soap and water or hand gel frequently and whenever leaving the laboratory/placement. 

Staff are expected to read the following documents: 

3. Approaches to delivering laboratory-based work Phase 1

  • Covid-19 related research has been prioritised as most urgent and is ongoing. Line managers / PIs / PhD supervisors are being consulted through their Institute Directors to establish need to resume work while observing the principles above. 

  • Phase 1 return will include Principal Investigators (PI’s, postdoctoral scientists, postgraduate students and support staff) who cannot work from home. 

  • If staff/students have concerns about [[[NBSP]]] returning to work onsite for any reason they should consult with their Line manager/PI and HR.  

  • It is possible that lockdown may be re-imposed if Covid-19 transmission increases again. We would therefore discourage researchers from starting long-term time-sensitive experiments and to think about preparing for this possibility. 

  • PIs are encouraged to review experimental design to reduce the time needed in laboratories, and to condense the working time into a shorter number of hours/days where possible, particularly to reduce travel at busy periods. 

  • PIs should consider staff and postgraduate students using busy labs on a shift system, to minimise the number of people each individual comes into contact with, and to ensure minimum concurrent occupancy, but maximum daily output.  For example, 8am-1pm & 1pm-6pm or similar. Shift systems could also offer flexibility to staff with caring commitments and reduce need for travel in peak hours. We do not encourage out of hours working and supervisory responsibilities must be adhered to 

  • All normal Health Safety and Welfare processes and procedures must be respected.  Staff and students must also be attentive of changes to requirements or amendments in procedures given that hazards are increased at this time (see Safety requirements).  

3.1 Support to deliver lab-based work in Jenner Wing Phase 1.

Building requirements 

  • Jenner Wing will be accessible for lab work between 0800 and 1800 Monday-Friday, to enable colleagues to travel out of peak time and to arrange shifts in the labs if required.  

  • Directional flow around the building will be introduced and signposted with staircases designated for up or down movement. Please see the map included in the personal safety and social distancing guidance

  • The use of lifts will be reserved for staff/students who cannot use stairs and for transporting goods and materials. 

  • Kitchens/Tea rooms will remain open but will be subject to social distancing rules and individual users will be responsible for cleaning after use.  Hand sanitiser and cleaning products will be made available.  Dishwashers will be switched off.  

  • There will be some core central services that support the building (BRF, Imaging, core laboratory service, Goods In, Estates support for maintenance, waste collection etc) available during core hours, but some support services will remain remote (IT)  

  • We would not expect out of hours or weekend working beyond the usual arrangement. (The out of hours and lone working policy must be adhered to at these times). Security would continue as in a business as usual arrangement.

  • Cleaning services will include additional hygiene measures. Please see laboratory cleaning guidance.

  • Office accommodation will be available for short term use by staff/postgraduate students between experiments. Desks should be allocated to one individual to reduce transmission risk (rather than a hot desk arrangement) and should follow social distancing guidelines for offices (please see the personal and social distancing guidelines.  

3.2 Safety requirements 

  • Indicative maximum occupation numbers for lab spaces should be no more than 25% maximum capacity and these should be used for PIs to agree risk assessments and local rules outlining how they would use the space safely applying the principles above (or those required by government guidance), and balancing working alone/supervision. 

  • PIs will be required to organise completion of a laboratory inspection before work can commence, a new risk assessment form must also be completed for the group laboratory and office areas, and they must ensure their local rules have been updated to take into account social distancing and cleaning measures (new forms and advice can be found here – cleaning guidance, social distancing guidance). PI’s should also review their COSSH forms. Use of local shared tea rooms should be assessed by PI’s in their risk assessments.  

  • Risk assessments, local rules and completed lab inspection checklists will be collated by the Research Institute Managers and reviewed by the Institute Safety Committees. Lab work cannot commence until RIMs have confirmed receipt. 

  • In person face to face meetings should be avoided and remote working tools should be used wherever possible.  If meetings are absolutely necessary, numbers of individuals should be limited, they must abide by social distancing guidelines and ensure meeting rooms are cleaned before and after use. 

  • In the event of a fire alarm all personnel must leave the building immediately and as quickly as possible by the nearest exit.  Once outside the building social distancing should be re-established. Read the full fire evacuation procedure.

  • Safety colleagues will consider other aspects of using the building in a safe way, including shared spaces and staff/studentswill be updated where necessary via email and the Return to Site webpages.

3.3 PI and staff responsibilities  

  • We will ask PIs/supervisors to plan proposed working arrangements in line with principles above, and paying particular consideration not only to working safely in the lab, but keeping in mind and discussing with their staff, travel, health, caring commitments and other factors which may impact an individual’s ability to return to work at St George’s. 

  • Initiating experiments with a long and inflexible timeline is not advised as these may be disrupted if there are further lockdowns, which cannot be ruled out. 

  • All staff/students must ensure that they read, sign (eg risk assessment, local rules, COSHH) and abide by new and emended University Health and Safety documentation. 

4. Other 

  • We expect individual PIs sharing lab space to work together to agree an optimum safe way of working within the shared space. If this cannot be resolved, the relevant Head of Institute and/or the Deputy Principal (Research and Enterprise) will determine the prioritisation of research. 

  • Any concerns regarding safety or breach of social distancing rules should be reported to PI/Line manager.  Alternatively, individuals can contact where their concerns will be treated in strict confidence or utilise the whistleblowing procedure

  • Individuals who breach Health and Safety guidance and social distancing rules may be subject to disciplinary procedures which could result in suspension of research activities or access to the site. 

4. Requirements for support of Physician Associate students with NHS placements  

4.1 Building requirements 

  • Access to Hunter Wing Level 4 will be available between 0800 and 1800 Monday-Friday to enable students to attend face to face PPE training. 

  • Jenner Wing will be available between 0800 and 1800 Monday-Friday, to enable PA students to access lockers on levels 1 and 2 of the Street and designated changing areas (Toilet facilities corridor 1 and 3) for changing from external clothing into scrubs prior to NHS placement 

  • Directional flow around the building will be introduced and signposted with staircases designated for up or down movement.  

  • The use of lifts will be reserved for staff/students who cannot use stairs and for transporting good and materials. 

4.2 Safety requirements 

  • Students must follow the social distancing guidelines and measures in use for common areas (direction of flow, and area delineation) and not loiter in the locker/changing areas.   

  • Students must follow their course guidelines. 

  • Any concerns regarding safety or breach of social distancing rules should be reported to the Course lead. 


Approved by BCP Gold 2 June 2020.


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