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Getting researchers back into their labs

As Ohio State researchers return to their labs following COVID-19 shutdowns, daily work should start to feel more normal.  

That’s because, even though most researchers haven’t been in their labs in recent months, Facilities Operations and Development’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) team has worked closely with the Office of Research and university principal investigators (PIs) and their teams to make sure reopening would be smooth.  

“We felt it was very important to keep research staff engaged in the safety process, even though they were not actively working in the lab,” said Tina Bogac, who oversees research laboratory safety as the senior director for EHS. “Our success in facilitating a strong safety culture is built on the positive relationships we have fostered with the lab staff.   

Bogac is part of the Safe Campus and Scientific Advisory Group, a subgroup of the university’s Post Pandemic Operations Task Force. Amy Fairchild, dean of Ohio State’s College of Public Health, chairs the advisory group, which includes experts in public health, infectious diseases, occupational health and safety, law and mental health.  

“Our advisory group has worked very hard to provide the best recommendations based on scientific data available to the Task Force,” Bogac said.  

Labs will be using the same protocols as other spaces across campus, such as wearing face coverings and proper personal protective equipment, maintaining a 6-foot physical distance, hand washing, frequent cleaning and other guidelines on the Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website 

Along with those guidelines, many researchers are already accustomed to conducting experiments with infectious agents and have safety protocols in place for maintaining a healthy environment. Aside from these standards, Bogac’s lab safety staff has implemented additional ways to get labs back online. Those include:  

  • Creating a Laboratory Safety Start-Up Checklist for tracking PPE inventory, making sure equipment such as fume hoods and eye washes are working and ensuring labs have necessary waste collection and disposal supplies.  
  • Facilitating hazardous waste disposal requests and assisting with clean-up projects requiring chemical waste disposal. 
  • Shifting typical safety site visits to remote documentation audits to look at issues such as online safety training and updating Standard Operating Procedures, which typically get pushed lower on the priority list when researchers are busy in the labs conducting experiments.   
  • Assisting staff from the Occupational Health and Safety and Medical Center Safety programs who work with Wexner Medical Center, the College of Dentistry and the College of Nursing to ensure those in need of N-95 respirators are fit tested and trained on proper usage.   

PIs and lab staff are welcome to contact their EHS Safety Representative to schedule an online consultation. Safety representatives also will be conducting routine building safety walk-throughs so staff and faculty are encouraged to ask any questions when you see them on campus. 

“Faculty, staff and students returning to campus should feel confident that their safety is the top priority of Ohio State,” Bogac said. “The university is following all public health recommendations and taking every precaution to make sure our faculty, staff and students have a safe and healthy environment to return to.” 

 Published: August 5, 2020 

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