Since the lockdown our campuses have been closed to all but essential COVID-19 research. We are now resuming some of our research activities that cannot be carried out remotely – although no-one should feel pressured to return.

This restart is being done in line with the current new guidance from the UK government including how to travel safely and working in indoor labs and research facilities and similar environments

Examples of department reopenings include:

  • At the Department of Chemistry in White City a total of 350 research staff and research students – all those who need access to do their work – are now able to come in to reconfigured labs working on a rota system of four days on and ten days working from home. 
  • In the Department of Bioengineering they have introduced 3D printed corona door hooksone way systems and perspex screens to get 16researchers back into the lab. 
  • In the Department of Physics a total of 155 staff now have access.
  • At the Department of Life Sciences all laboratories are open, and all research staff and PhD students are able to book slots on a 12 hour, 2 slots per day/7 day week rota. 

Working closely with Estates Operations and the Safety Department, academic departments have used a range of measures to help staff and students get back to their research, including: 

  • Rota or cohort working 
  • Staggered travel times to allow to use public transport when it is quiet 
  • The use of the SafeZone app for those who are lone working 
  • One-way systems in corridors and lifts 
  • Availability of hand sanitizer  
  • Arm and foot door openers and 3D printed door hooks 
  • Reconfiguring lab space so that people are not facing each other at benches 
  • Code of Conduct which staff and students must sign before returning to campus 
  • Webinars for all staff and students 
  • Bespoke safety inductions before return to campus 
  • Ensuring researchers can follow social distancing  
  • Increased cleaning and sanitizing protocols such as clingfilm on keyboards 

Reflections from Heads of Department

Professor Anthony Bull, Head of the Department of Bioengineering

"We've got one way systems in the corridors and stairs, with hand sanitiser available and the small lifts are for one person at a time with plenty of signage.

"We've also introduced special 3D printed hooks and foot pedals so people can open doors without touching the handles. We've found people are comfortable in the shared spaces where everyone is wearing face coverings. We are now working in making sure there are enough spaces for people to eat and we are encouraging anyone who is lone working to download the SafeZone app."

Professor Oscar Ces, Head of the Department of Chemistry

"Everyone in Chemistry who cannot work remotely has been welcomed back into the MRSH and RCS1 including PostDocs, PhDs, and MRes students. To get to that stage every PI (Principal Investigator) had to look closely at their area and re-design them in the light of our new COVID-19 related guidelines - for example looking at workflows in laboratories and moving equipment to prevent hot-spots, supporting working diagonally opposite each other at benches and non-occupancy of adjacent fumehoods. These plans were then assessed by the department and before anyone came back they were asked to attend information webinars, undertake safety inductions and sign a code of conduct. This work was complement by extensive modifications to our spaces, from new signage through to new modes of operation of our facilities. It has been a real team effort."

Professor Michele Dougherty, Head of the Department of Physics

"We are now in the second week of our pilot lab reopening and 70 staff have access. By next week I expect another 90 experimental staff and PhD students to have access. In order to ensure we do this as safely as possible we are following a clear process,  we have an oversight committee meeting each week to ensure all is going well and to be able to raise any issues of concern, and all members of staff have to sign a code of conduct and follow an online video before they gain access to the labs. It is been lovely to be back, and feels like life is slowly returning to normal!"

Principles

The Vice-Provost for Research and Enterprise, Deans, Vice-Deans for Research and Faculty Operating and Safety Officers  developed a set of principles to guide us as we restarted our research:
 
  • The safety and wellbeing of staff is paramount 
  • Remote working remains the preferred option for those that are able to do so 
  • No one should feel pressured to return to work on campus 
  • There are clear guidelines for prioritising who can return