On Monday Governor Baker announced the State’s Plan to safely reopen the Massachusetts economy, while minimizing the health impacts of COVID-19. The guidance includes mandatory sector-specific standards and recommended best practices for sectors that are eligible to open in Phase 1, including laboratories that were not already considered essential. The Safety Standards for Laboratories are applicable to all laboratories (essential and non-essential) and are organized around four categories: social distancing, hygiene protocols, staffing and operations, and cleaning and disinfecting.

Social Distancing

Social distancing requirements include ensuring separation of six feet or more between individuals, unless this distance is unsafe due to the nature of the work or configuration of the workspace. This may require closing or reconfiguring worker common and high-density areas such as eating areas, and redesigning workstations including the use of physical partitions (must be taller than a standing worker). In addition, designated work areas must be assigned to limit movement throughout the facility. Lunch and break times should also be staggered and where possible, the use of confined spaces such as elevators by more than one individual should be minimized.

In addition to these social distancing measures, employees must use face coverings or face masks at all times except where doing so may introduce a safety hazard to employees, or where an individual is unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition or disability. The is more stringent than the State Order effective May 6th which requires face coverings in public places, but only where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

Hygiene Protocols

Hygiene protocols must require that employers ensure access to handwashing facilities including soap and running water and/or provide alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol. Employers must also ensure frequent cleaning and sanitation of all high-touch areas such as desks, door handles and restrooms, and provide disinfecting wipes and other supplies to do so. In addition, the sharing of laboratory material and equipment such as safety glasses must be avoided, or they must be disinfected between use.

Staffing and Operations

It is recommended that employees continue to telework if feasible, and that meetings be remote to reduce density in the lab. For employees that must be onsite, workplace hours should be staggered to minimize contact and reduce congestion at entry points. In addition, the access of office workers to laboratory employees should be restricted. The number of visitors and service providers allowed on site should also be limited.

Any employee who is feeling ill must stay home and vulnerable employees (e.g., due to age or underlying conditions) are encouraged to stay home. Employees are also encouraged to self-identify to their employer if they have symptoms or have had any close contact with a known or suspected COVID-19 positive individual. Workers who test positive for COVID-19 are encouraged to disclose to their employer for purposes of cleaning/disinfecting and contact tracing.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Employers are required to conduct cleaning and disinfection of the facility at least daily and more if feasible. Frequent disinfection of hi-touch surfaces is required as mentioned above. Shared spaces such as conferences rooms must be cleaned between uses. In the event of a positive case, the Laboratory Safety Standards require that the facility be shut down for a deep cleaning and disinfecting.

There are also training and posting requirements associated with the four categories. Training must be provided to employees on up-to-date safety information and precautions including hygiene and other measures aimed at reducing disease transmission. In addition, notices must be posted on important health information and relevant safety measures as outlined in government guidance including that from the State as well as the CDC and OSHA. It is also a requirement that signage be posted throughout the facility to remind workers of the hygiene and safety protocols that have been put in place.

All businesses in Massachusetts must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan that outlines how their workplace will comply with the requirements of the Safety Standards for their particular sector. For assistance with your company’s Plan, or for additional information on the Massachusetts Safety Standards for Laboratories, please email info@safetypartnersinc.com.