Covid-19 has created a world-wide health crisis not seen for a very long time. In March 2020 the UK, as well as the rest of the world, seemed to grind to a halt. Computers were shut down, laboratories closed and those who could do so, were encouraged to work from home. Aston University has reacted strongly and positively to the challenge of maintaining teaching and research as safely as possible. Within EBRI, which focusses on energy and bioproducts with no teaching responsibilities, the laboratories were re-opened on 22 June 2020; under a carefully controlled regime that was managed by a protocol devised by a panel of users and senior management. This protocol defines how researchers can access the building and how they can safely conduct their research.
This starts with an approval process to ensure management in EBRI and the University was fully aware of who was allowed to access EBRI. All researchers accessing EBRI are required to log-in to the University security department via a “Safe-Zone” app on their mobile phone in case of any problems and with the full support of their supervisors. Each laboratory has an academic coordinator to oversee the running of the laboratory and the researchers booking space. These eight coordinators form a key part of the Laboratory Users Group which meets once a month to review laboratory activities and resolve operational issues. Other members of the group include the EBRI director of implementation, the EBRI health and safety committee chair and the University health and safety advisor.
A well-defined procedure of regularly disinfecting hands and social distancing was introduced coupled with a well-defined waste management programme to avoid contamination from masks, gloves and lab coats. Maximum limits on laboratory occupancy were introduced to maintain minimum working distances and with a computerised booking system for each laboratory so researchers can reserve a place in laboratories. Initially an EBRI laboratories supervisor was always on-site but this this was subsequently relaxed but with an assurance that a supervisors was always accessible. All laboratories are open in normal University working hours with late evening and weekend working permitted in exceptional circumstances subject to a risk assessment and management approval.
Our team of researchers here at Aston were keen to get back into doing some physical research, and though the building is not the busy, social environment it once was, it is great to see the laboratories in use once more. Though the guidelines around travel and isolation seem to differ from country to country, we are keen to welcome transnational access visitors from the BRISK2 project to use our state of the art facilities when it is safe to do so. Where travel is not possible, we are happy to assist with virtual visits.
To find out how a transnational access visit could benefit your research please visit this link.