The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has affected most businesses worldwide. Calibration laboratories have also felt those effects and have been required to adapt their business practices to accommodate the changes to the industry.
In most situations, commercial calibration laboratories are seen as an ‘essential business’ due to their support for many other businesses deemed essential, such as hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and aviation organizations. Although some laboratories may have reduced hours or reduced capacities, most laboratories are able to continue to operate and maintain full calibration and repair services for their customers.
As with all businesses, calibration laboratories are taking the appropriate health and safety measures to reduce the risk of employees contracting the virus and spreading it within the laboratory environment. As calibration laboratories monitor and abide by the federal, state, and local guidelines for the virus, their first priority is to ensure the health and safety of each of their employees, customers, and community.
Those actions include the practice of social distancing, the elimination of all non-essential travel, and following safe health and cleanliness protocols within the laboratory, such as frequent cleaning and disinfecting of workspaces and using facemasks where appropriate. Most laboratories have revised their policies and operating procedures to adhere to guidance from the government and health experts and business operations have been adjusted to account for the economic climate in each laboratory location.
Laboratory employees that can perform their job functions from home have often been set up to do so, however, while some administrative functions can be performed by employees working from home, the calibration process is a ‘hands-on’ process and most calibration technicians need to maintain a physical presence within the laboratory. Alternating workdays or rotating shifts have been utilized by some laboratories to limit the number of employees in the laboratory at any given time.
Most calibration laboratories are physically designed in such a way to minimize the effects of these types of circumstances.
ISO/IEC 17025:2017, the standard that governs the accreditation of calibration laboratories, has provisions that calibration laboratories need to follow to minimize the influences that can affect the accuracy of their results, such as microbial contamination and dust particles and to have proper separation between certain areas to reduce interference with the laboratory activities.
To accommodate these guidelines, the areas for receiving equipment are usually separated away from the main laboratory activities and the entrances to calibration laboratories typically contain an airlock with a tack mat to remove debris from the bottoms of shoes.
The laboratory environment is maintained at a positive pressure so that dust particles or extreme temperatures cannot be drawn into the laboratory. The HVAC systems usually contain HEPA filters or other filter types to reduce the amount of dust circulated within the laboratory. These design characteristics help to maintain a clean environment for the laboratory personnel and equipment.
Most on-site calibrations can continue to be performed, as long as the calibration technicians take the necessary precautions to comply with the customer’s current policies and procedures when working at the customer facilities.
Social distancing guidelines should always be maintained at the customer worksite. The best way to do this is to only have one-on-one interactions, with one technician and one point of contact, in all work areas at the on-site facility
Listed below are a few calibration laboratory-specific practices that should be followed to mitigate the spread of the virus within the laboratory.
Although most individual calibration laboratories are of a smaller size, usually 25 employees or less, it is important that regular communication takes place with all laboratory personnel and that the lines of communication remain open. The situation can change daily and employees need to be informed of the changes with frequent updates and a means to answer any questions or address issues the employees may have.
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