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Guidelines for Developing a Health Safety Plan for Laboratory Research and On-site Scholarship and Creative Activity

As mentioned in the guidelines for increasing on-campus research activity at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, all laboratories, including those active during reduced activities, must develop a workplace health safety plan that details safe practices for employees as we implement a phased-in approach to increasing research activities starting May 11, 2020.

  • Continue to encourage working remotely as much as possible for those employees who can do so without impacting critical operations (e.g., working on grant writing, data analysis, publications, literature reviews, etc.) during Phases 1 and 2.
  • This includes accommodating personnel who are members of a vulnerable population or have close family who are members of a vulnerable population that are at a higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19.

Development of health safety plans that implement social distancing, staggered work schedules, and proper protection and hygienic practices in laboratory and work environment spaces are critical to protecting colleagues and campus support personnel while research activities increase in scope.

The health safety plan will be completed and submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI). The following webform assists PIs in developing and submitting their lab-specific health safety plans.

PIs who have been working remotely and plan on returning to campus laboratories will need to have their plans approved before activities can restart. PIs who have been operating on campus in reduced fashion must submit plans to their department heads or center directors for approval as quickly as possible, but no later than Wednesday, May 13.

The health safety plan webform includes a series of queries to ascertain level of preparedness to continue and increase research activities safely by incrementally bringing back personnel whose activities cannot be completed remotely and where hygienic and social distancing practices can be maintained.

Each research room will require a separate health safety plan and we offer our appreciation in advance for the extra effort on the PIs part to complete them. This requirement is unfortunately necessary as different laboratory spaces often have different purposes, functions, and personnel even within the same research group. Consequently, health safety measures need to be tailored to the specific environment and procedures of the particular room or space.

  • In cases where multiple research groups share a common room or space, one PI should be designated as the lead coordinator to submit a single coordinated plan on behalf of the group.
  • Department heads and center directors will be responsible for ensuring that all PIs utilizing the common room or space agree to and follow the plan.
  • Each PI will then need to communicate the approved plan to all members of their respective research groups.

Checkboxes on particular webform sections are intended to assist PIs with selecting effective health safety measures and ease the burden of developing a plan from scratch.

  • Not every health safety measure will apply or even be appropriate to every situation. Please carefully select the health safety measures that appear to be applicable to your laboratory situation.
  • In some cases, normal laboratory safety procedures and new health safety procedures may have different requirements. Most often in these cases, the normal laboratory safety procedures will take precedence and PIs should document these cases in the appropriate text field on the form.
  • At the same time, when a laboratory safety procedure precludes the use of health safety procedures, the PI and employee performing the procedure should actively make the judgement as to whether that activity is necessary at this time given the potential health risk.

Once completed by the PI, the webform will be routed through the appropriate department safety officer (if applicable), department head or research center director for approval.

  • Health safety plans for core facilities are to be developed by the core facility directors and approved by their supervisors.
  • Health safety plans for departmental workshops will be submitted by the workshop manager to their supervisor for approval.
  • Health safety plans completed and approved by individuals other than the PI will be returned without approval.

When the health safety plans for a particular laboratory research group are approved by the department head or center director, it will be the responsibility of the PI to communicate them to each laboratory group member and visitors.

  • A hard copy of the plan must be posted conspicuously in each laboratory room or space after approval.
  • Researchers and laboratory staff will be required to sign the plan upon first entry and before beginning work to signify that they understand and agree to follow the plan.
  • Individuals using either a departmental workshop or UT core facility must sign the health safety plan before using the facility.

Because of the importance of effective health safety plans for both the health of the university community and for establishing positive health safety culture for Phases 2 and 3 of a return to campus, department heads, center directors, associate deans for research, and Environmental Health and Safety will be highly engaged in verifying the implementation and execution of health safety plans. Where necessary, associate deans for research and the JIAM Director have a range of actions up to and including stop work orders for research groups or laboratories that do not practice recommended health safety measures.

Laboratory research is the only on-campus function that has been active during the COVID-19 pandemic for academic units. Since many of the same faculty members and graduate students who are active in laboratory research areas are also engaged in teaching, the health safety measures established by the research community have the potential to lead the way for a successful return to campus for other functions carried out by academic units.

The COVID-19 situation remains dynamic. As the situation on the ground or recommendations from the CDC or other public health officials change, laboratory health safety plans may require revision. The latest information can always be found on the Office of Research and Engagement’s Guidelines for Increasing On-Campus Research Activity at UT Knoxville page.