OESO Guidance for Research Labs Curtailing or Suspending Onsite Activities
March 27th, 2020

Lab safety considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The OESO Laboratory Safety Division would like to provide some guidance on the recently announced restriction of laboratory operations announced by Larry Carin, Vice President for Research for Duke University. You should refer to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Research-Related Updates page for detailed information related to the operational aspects of these restrictions.
For the most up-to-date information about steps being taken around Duke to minimize health and safety risks to Duke students, faculty, staff, and the larger community, visit the Duke Coronavirus Response Page.
Below is some guidance for working safely if/when lab personnel absolutely need to work in the lab, and for suspending laboratory operations if on-site work is not necessary. If you have questions, please contact OESO Lab Safety.

General Guidance for Labs that will Curtail Operations (but not Suspend Operations)

  • Stock up on supplies, reagents, and PPE - have at least 2 weeks supply on hand.
  • Cross-train staff to ensure more than one person can perform all essential activities.
  • Ensure effective communication methods are identified and tested. An employee could be quarantined who is not sick, but they will only be able to call in.
  • For labs that have research specimens stored in LN2, ensure a plan is in place for continued ordering of cryogens, and make sure key lab staff will be able to access the lab to hook up these tanks as needed. Consult with your lab manager, business manager, etc. if there are any concerns.
  • Ensure laboratory staff have key contact information easily available – see OESO’s Emergency Response & Incident Reporting Page for many key institutional phone numbers.
  • Ensure that there is an effective way to properly dispose of biological waste. For more information see OESO’s Lab Safety page on Biological Materials.

General Guidance for Labs that will Suspend Operations

  • Update Laboratory Door Signage with current emergency contact information
  • Ensure that gas cylinders are secured in an upright position. Close valves and, if possible, remove regulators and place screw caps on tanks.
  • Suspend standing orders for dry ice & other supplies. You should check with lab members to ensure they don’t have any scheduled orders.
  • Turn off and disconnect all heat-generating equipment (e.g., hot plates, stir plates, ovens, water baths, and computers) and unplug nonessential electrical devices if possible. (See the hotplate hazard alert).
  • Ensure that all water sources are turned off (e.g. circulating water baths, aspirators, etc.).
  • If necessary, elevate equipment, supplies, electrical wires, and chemicals off the floor to protect against flooding from broken pipes.
  • Secure physical hazards such as sharp objects (needles/syringes/razor blades/scalpels, etc.).
  • Ensure any radioactive materials are locked/secured inside a refrigerator, freezer, or lockbox.

Chemicals & Chemical Waste

  • Secure all chemicals – make sure all containers are properly labeled, closed tightly and segregated from incompatibles.
  • Don’t leave any peroxide formers (including isopropyl alcohol) in wash bottles or other containers where they are open to air.
  • If you have a glove box, just in case the nitrogen supply is disrupted, make sure all chemical containers in glove boxes are closed and sealed tightly, to protect the contents and to prevent a hazardous reaction in case this happens.
  • If you have chemicals used in equipment such as HPLC, remove tubing and secure in bottles without tubing access ports in the lids. This is especially important for THF and other peroxide formers, and for chloroform (which can form phosgene in the bottle upon exposure to air).
  • If you have a flammable-safe refrigerator or other equipment, consider what would need to happen if there is a disruption to power. (We don’t anticipate this, but it is possible.)
  • Fume hoods: Clear the hood of all hazards and close the sash.
  • All chemical waste needs to be labeled, stored in containers with a secure, tight-fitting lid, and in secondary containment. Any process waste needs to be capped with a regular cap (not with tubing going into it).
  • For hazardous waste pickups, the request can be submitted with contact information in the case that OESO staff and a lab member can meet at the lab for the waste pickup. If no one from the lab can come in, the pickup request will remain in our system for processing once folks are back on campus.

Biological Materials

  • Click here for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Biosafety Guidelines
  • Secure infectious material and toxins in appropriate storage units that are marked with a biohazard sticker or sign.
  • Check that refrigerator, freezer, and incubator doors are tightly closed and labeled with lab contact information.
  • Ensure valuable perishable items in storage units (-80° freezers, LN2 storage, others) have monitoring systems and are on backup power whenever possible.
  • Disinfect any potentially contaminated surfaces and properly dispose of biohazard waste.
  • Disinfect (if needed) and empty any aspirator flasks in BSCs or in the main lab.