All University of Tennessee, Knoxville, laboratories, research workspaces, and studios (hereafter “laboratories”, “laboratory” or “lab”) —including those active during reduced activities—must develop a workplace health safety plan that details safe practices for employees.
Supervisors should encourage working remotely as much as possible and make accommodations for personnel who are members of a vulnerable population or have close family who are members of a vulnerable population. (those at a higher risk of contracting and suffering severe illness due to COVID-19).
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 maintaining the continuity of research and scholarship.
PIs who have been working remotely and plan on returning to campus laboratories must have their plans approved before activities can resume.
The health safety plan form includes a series of questions to ascertain the 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 area requires a separate health safety plan. This requirement is 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 a 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 personnel 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 certain form 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 may have stricter requirements than the new health safety procedures. Most often in these cases, the normal laboratory safety procedures will take precedence. PIs should document these types of cases in the appropriate text field on the form.
When a lab safety procedure precludes the use of health safety procedures, the PI and employee performing the procedure should make the judgment as to whether that activity is necessary at this time given the potential health risk.
Once completed, the health safety form will be routed through the appropriate department safety officer, department head, or research center director for approval.
As research activities increase on campus and in labs, it is important to note that Health Safety Plans must be updated to reflect additions of personnel such as undergraduates or new graduate students, and changes in laboratory activities that affect health safety.
Please note that:
- 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 are to 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 plan(s) for a particular laboratory research group is/are approved by the department head or center director, it will be the responsibility of the PI to communicate the plan to every 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.
Department heads, center directors, associate deans for research, and Environmental Health and Safety staff 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.
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 Current Research Level of Operations page.