Guidance for General Laboratory Safety Practices during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Guidance for General Laboratory Safety Practices during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated July 6, 2020

General Guidance

This guidance is to address the general workflow safety concerns of laboratory personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic. All laboratories should perform site- and activity-specific risk assessments to determine the most appropriate safety measures to implement for particular circumstances. In addition, facilities should adhere to local policies and procedures as well as all applicable federal, state, and local regulations and public health guidelines.

Risk assessments should include the following considerations:

  • Analyze the number of people that the laboratory space can realistically and safely accommodate while maintaining social distancing.
  • Assess the flow of personnel traffic. Where possible, design one-way paths for staff to walk through the laboratory space.
  • Assess procedures for cleaning and sanitizing commonly shared equipment and areas—for example, counters, benchtops, and desks—to ensure clean surfaces and equipment for all users.
  • Review emergency communication and operational plans, including how to protect staff at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Every institution should have a COVID-19 health and safety plan to protect employees. This plan should be shared with all staff. Ideally, this plan would:

  • Describe steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if an employee is sick.
  • Instruct sick employees to stay home and not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
  • Provide information on whom employees should contact if they become sick.
  • Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices. If sick leave is not offered to some or all employees, the institution should consider implementing emergency sick leave policies.
  • Designate someone to be responsible for responding to employees’ COVID-19 concerns. Employees should know who this person is and how to contact this person at all times.
  • Provide employees with accurate information about COVID-19, how it spreads, and the risk of exposure.
  • Reinforce training on proper handwashing practices and other routine infection control precautions to help prevent the spread of many diseases, including COVID-19.

Ensure that employees have access to personal protective equipment (PPE); disinfectant products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2external icon; and soap, clean running water, and drying materials for handwashing, or alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.

Social Distancing

To the extent possible, adhere to social distancing recommendations by adjusting staff schedules, adding additional shifts, or implementing non-overlapping teams to minimize personnel contact. Identify laboratory tasks and activities that can be performed with reduced or no face-to-face interactions. Examples include limiting the number of laboratory meetings that occur and, when possible, using remote collaboration tools (such as video and phone conferencing), even for those who work in the same location or building.

To the extent possible, reconfigure workspaces and locations of shared equipment to reduce crowding. Create one-directional paths and workflows. Declutter workspaces and dispose of unnecessary items to help with reconfiguration. If reconfiguration is not possible, consider placing barriers (plexiglass, partition, plastic, etc.) between computer workstations, desks, or equipment that position staff six feet apart from each other.

Minimize personnel traffic and interactions by limiting visits from vendors and other external partners; engage with them virtually whenever possible.

Face Coverings

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in settings where social distancing measures are challenging to maintain, like office spaces, computer workstations, and break rooms. Face coverings may prevent people who do not know they have the virus from transmitting it to others. These face coverings are not disposable face masks or respirators; they are not appropriate substitutes when risk assessments and work procedures recommend or require an employee to wear respiratory PPE.

In general, laboratory employees should wear a face covering in laboratory spaces that do not have requirements for respiratory PPE and where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Any facial protection that is worn inside a laboratory area where personnel work with potentially infectious material should subsequently not be worn outside of that laboratory area. Site- and activity-specific risk assessments, as well as available resources, should determine where specific facial protection should be used.

Wash hands before putting on face coverings, and minimize the removal of face coverings. If a face covering becomes contaminated or dirty, follow the guidelines below to remove it and replace it with a clean face covering:

  • Take off the face covering carefully.
  • Untie the strings behind the head or stretch the ear loops.
  • Handle only by the ear loops or ties.
  • Fold outside corners together.
  • Be careful not to touch eyes, nose, or mouth when removing a face covering, and place it in a sealed bag until it can be washed.
  • Wash hands immediately after removing.

Face coverings should be washed frequently. Depending on the activity, each person may need to have multiple clean face coverings available to use at different times. Learn more about how to wash cloth face coverings.

Depending on the facility’s design or configuration, additional physical barriers, such as a face shield, plexiglass, partition, or plastic barriers, may be needed to achieve social distancing goals.

Personal Hygiene and Disinfection

As more workers return to the laboratory, extra measures may be needed to ensure a clean and appropriate environment. Reevaluate current protocols for cleaning, use of PPE, and handwashing. High-touch locations and equipment with a high frequency of handling and contact present a higher probability of contamination in the work area and should be disinfected frequently. Increasing the number of available cleaning supplies and distributing them throughout the laboratory can encourage staff to more frequently clean surfaces and equipment.

Use visual reminders, such as posters displayed throughout the laboratory environment, common areas, and restrooms, to emphasize the importance of hand hygiene and to encourage frequent handwashing. Hands should be washed regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol can be used when soap and water are not available. For more information, see CDC’s Hand Hygiene Recommendations.