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COVID-19 Research Update: May 7, 2020

Preparing for a safe return to campus: Developing a Health Safety Plan

As mentioned in the guidelines for increasing on-campus research activity at UT 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.  Health safety plans should incorporate strategies such as social distancing, staggered work schedules, and proper protection and hygienic practices in laboratory and work spaces to ensure that we protect colleagues and campus support personnel while research activities increase in scope.

To assist with development of the plan, we have created a fillable webform and guide. This form includes a series of queries to ascertain level of preparedness to serve as a guide for safely performing research activities as staff numbers are incrementally increased. As a reminder, this applies to personnel whose activities cannot be completed remotely and where hygienic and social distancing practices can be maintained.

Laboratory health safety plans should be filled out and submitted electronically by the PI to the department safety officer (if applicable) and department head or center director for approval. PIs that have been working remotely and plan on returning to campus laboratories will need plan approval before activities can restart. PIs that have been operating on campus in reduced fashion must submit their plans to their department heads or center directors for approval as quickly as possible, but no later than Wednesday, May 13.

Department heads are an essential cornerstone in the health safety plan approval process. Once approved, the PI will receive the completed form as a PDF and will be responsible for posting a hard copy of the plan in a conspicuous place and communicating the agreed practices to all members utilizing that room/space.

While we are steadily increasing on-campus personnel during phase 1 and 2, it is important to continue to encourage remote work 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.).

Student and faculty who are returning or are currently working in labs do not need to fill out a return-to-work exception form.

It is important to point out that laboratory research is one of the only on-campus functions that has been active during the COVID-19 pandemic for academic units. Since many of the same faculty members and graduate students active in laboratory research area 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.  Please continue to do your best to help us move forward with the safety of all in our community in mind.

Updates, FAQs, new proposal opportunities, and past messages from the Office of Research and Engagement’s website.

Thank you for continuing to help us all move safely forward!

Matthew M. Mench
Interim Vice Chancellor for Research