The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted labs around the globe. Some labs closed entirely, others reacted by reducing staff and hours to minimize risk of exposure, others scheduled additional work shifts and extended working hours; and some even maintained full operation with new protocols in place to keep staff safe.

As we start to open back up, labs will have to implement new safety protocols to meet health requirements, and give serious thought to how they can reorganize their physical work spaces, shift schedules, and if it’s the right time to safely get back into their labs.

There are many new questions that should be answered, including:

  • Is it really safe to reopen? Is this the right time to do it?
  • What do we have to do to safely reopen? What safety protocols do we need? (Face shields? Social distancing? Limited shifts hours and number of people? Workplace hygiene?)
  • How can we reorganize our lab to ensure social distancing? How do we manage shared resources and equipment?
  • Can we create more space between equipment? Should we construct physical barriers between machines for safety?
  • What do we do if the virus resurges locally? What if someone on our staff gets sick?
  • Should we start new research? If we do, can the process be quickly put on hold if we have an incident?
  • What triggers do we monitor and how do we decide if we should close again?

One thing is certain, while it’s challenging to close or restrict/reorganize a lab, it’s even more challenging to reopen a lab.

Reopening your lab isn’t just a matter of physical health for your staff. You may have people who aren’t comfortable coming back into the workplace, at least not yet. To ensure a person’s mental health, you may have to incorporate measures to relieve staff concern and anxiety. Reopening means implementing protocols that ensure both the physical and mental health of employees.

As you develop your reopening plan, it’s best to think of this in the long-term. This is probably not a temporary change to the way you do business and it may take years to establish what normal looks like.

If you have a crisis management/disaster preparedness plan, add your new COVID-19 protocols to the plan. That way you’ll have everything you need in one reference document. If you don’t have a documented plan, this is a good time to create one. And be sure that your crisis team is trained to use it.

In reorganizing your lab to reopen, you may find equipment you no longer need taking up valuable space on your bench. One of our clients, a large pharmaceutical company, discovered that in reorganizing its lab to ensure social distancing, it could no longer devote bench space to storing unneeded equipment. Selling that equipment on the used market helped solve their space problem and brought in some cash as well.