Updated 10th November 2020
Documents offering extensive guidance can be downloaded from the following links
Early Years & Primary (Update coming soon)
Secondary science and technology (Updated 10th Nov)
We will address further issues by means of an FAQ section. (In the document but also replicated at the bottom of this page.)
We realise that there will be wide variation between schools across the country in terms of: pupil rolls, number and size of classrooms, etc. The advice here is necessarily general. If you have specific advice, please contact us at SSERC.
For guidance on other aspects of returning to school, you should consult the advice from the Scottish Government which can be found here (https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-reducing-the-risks-in-schools/pages/scientific-and-public-health-advice/)
Frequently Asked Questions
New FAQs will be added at the top of this list
Change in guidance regarding cleaning of equipment.
As a result of further discussion with the Scottish Government, this has been ‘tweaked’ slightly . . . more details and background in the document.
As a result of recent research, the Scottish Government has changed
some of its advice in the latest update to its guidance for schools. It says:
Careful hand washing with soap and warm water/use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling text books, jotters (or other pieces of equipment) mitigates the need for quarantine for 72 hours before, and 72 hours after.
SSERC’s interpretation is that this can also be applied to equipment used in science and technology.
It is important to note that this does NOT mean a return to normality. The virus is still here and all possible measures should still be taken to prevent its spread.
In health and safety matters, we often use the concept of ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. This means that when we consider a safety measure, we weigh the possible gains against the costs, not just financial but also in terms of time and convenience weighed against possible impact on learning.
Given the increasing evidence that with good hand hygiene, the risk of picking up coronavirus from touching a surface is low, we think that in normal conditions there may not be an absolute requirement to disinfect/quarantine equipment between classes – provided that:
- Disinfecting/quarantining of the equipment is difficult or time-consuming to the point where practical activities are reduced or not taking place and learners’ education is affected. For example, whilst it is practicable to wipe down the rotary control on a physics power supply every time it is used, sanitising or quarantining connecting leads and small components is far less so.
- An effective system is in place for careful hand sanitising with soap and warm water/use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling items.
- Users of such equipment, teachers as well as learners, should avoid touching their faces. If they do so then they should re-clean their hands before touching the equipment.
- If there is an event that could potentially lead to greater contamination – such as someone coughing or sneezing on equipment then the item should be cleaned or quarantined before another user touches it. (The chances of this being an issue are greatly lessened in situations where the user is wearing a face covering).
- Items that might come into direct contact with the face, such as microscope/spectroscope eyepieces should still be wiped with an antiseptic between users.
PPE such as eye protection should still continue to be disinfected in the same way as before as it is in direct contact with the face.
Note that this is between classes – sharing of equipment between individuals in the same class should still be kept to an absolute minimum.
In the same way that evidence suggests surface transmission is less important, it is also suggesting that transmission by droplets and aerosols is more important. The sharing of equipment at the same time in a group will inevitably mean they are in close proximity and maximising distance is thus an important factor in minimising the spread of the virus.
Face coverings in practical science classes
Recent changes in guidance mean that in some areas of the country (Those in Tiers 3 & 4) face coverings will have to be worn by teachers and learners in some classrooms. This includes laboratories.
There do not seem to be and Health & Safety issues that would cause any problems.
Bunsen burners are OK. There is no realistic likelihood of a mask coming into contact with a flame while being worn even if they are combustible
Contamination isn’t likely to be a problem either. While it is possible that the covering might absorb some fumes and allow their release later, all that will be happening is that, at worst, the same dose will be spread out over a longer period of time. Theoretically there might be minor issues with a build up of impurities leading to a long-term, low level but potentially problematic inhalation of contaminants. But normal mask hygiene should stop this anyway.
Masks should either be disposable or be washed on a daily basis, which should prevent this being an issue. Now we are of course dealing with children so it is quite likely this won’t happen that regularly but it is not likely to be an issue unless something is actually spilled on the mask – in which case it will definitely need to be cleaned.
Are alcohol-based sanitisers permitted in laboratories?
We have heard suggestions that alcohol-based sanitisers should not ever be used in science labs because of their flammability. We disagree.
As long as they are not used next to a source of ignition and time is allowed for the alcohol to evaporate from hands, we think the risk is not significant. Experiments at SSERC with alcohol-based gel soaked into paper tissue showed that it was very difficult to get it to light without it being extremely close to the flame. Caution should be observed but, used sensibly, we see no significant risk. Once the stock has been exhausted, it would perhaps be prudent to make the next purchase an alcohol-free formula but there is no reason to withdraw your current stock from use.
Regarding alcohol -free formulations – there are now several on the market that seem to be active against coronaviruses: mostly ones based on quaternary ammonium compounds. When assessing the overall risk, it is worth bearing in mind that though these are not flammable, research suggests they need at least two minutes on the hand to provide the same level of protection you get from alcohol gels in 20-30 seconds.
There have been numerous questions about this:
Milton have changed their guidance on dilution when their products are being used for disinfecting Covid-19. Rather than the general figures stated on the packet/bottle, you would use the following.
- Fluid: 60ml fluid per litre of cold water
- Tablets: 2 tablets per litre of cold water.
Milton on their website suggest a contact time of 15 minutes.
The WHO recommends a 1:100 dilution of bleach that is 5%. Research published in the Lancet Microbe suggest that this concentration will ‘kill’ the virus in under 5 minutes. (The revised figures for Milton’s fluid, which is chemically similar, are about this concentration as well) However, it seems that many bleaches sold in the UK are a lower concentration, 1-1.5%.
So in order to get to the 0.05% dilution that is suitable you will need to dilute as follows
- 1 part 5% bleach + 99 parts cold water* OR
- 1 part 1% bleach + 19 parts cold water
- (for other concentrations, calculate as appropriate)
Milton suggest 15 minutes for their product but the lancet paper suggests that a similar dilution of bleach will be effective in under 5. If there is time, it is probably prudent to leave for 15 but the evidence suggests that a shorter exposure will not be a problem.
Thick v Thin bleaches
There is no difference in effectiveness as far as the ingredients are concerned but the thick bleaches tend to be higher in sodium Hypochlorite.
- Thin Bleach £0.19 per litre (Tesco) – 1%
- Thick Bleach £0.52 per litre (Tesco) – 4.6%
* To be absolutely certain of having the right level of available chlorine, you should dilute a 4.5% bleach 1+89 rather than 1+99 but given that this will be a concentration of 0.046% rather than 0.05, very close, then leaving it for, say, 10 minutes rather than 5 should guarantee effectiveness.
Thick bleach has various additives, the main function of which is to help it stick to vertical surfaces like lavatory pans, for long enough to be effective This is not relevant for our purposes.
The thick bleach will work out more economical but be careful diluting it – as it contains surfactants, it is best to add the bleach to the water and stir gently rather than the other way round – that will result in less foam being produced.
- Do not mix bleach (or Milton’s) with other products as toxic chlorine can be produced.
- Be careful of using these, or any other chlorine-based disinfectants on coloured items, especially cloth as it can get bleached.
- Bleach can also corrode metals, even stainless steel over time so be careful with any metal items.
Both Miltons and bleach at these concentrations are dilute enough that they can simply be washed to waste.
Current guidance is to make a fresh solution of either bleach or Miltons each day. We are currently looking to see if there is a simple way of testing your soaking bath to see if this is needed. Until and unless we do, then you will need to replace the solutuions on a daily basis.
How can we manage to sanitise eye protection? A full disinfection between each use would be incredibly difficult and time-consuming.
There are two approaches to be taken here: try to reduce sharing and try to sanitise where possible.
More details on ways you can keep your eye protection sanitised can be found in a separate document here: https://www.sserc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Disinfecting-Eye-Protection.docx
Lab Coats and Microbiology
In the first version(s) of this guidance, we overlooked that, unlike in many areas, lab coats are a requirement for carrying out microbiology.
If each learner has their own lab coat, this is not a problem: no extra laundry is required.
If they need to be shared then procedures need to be put in place for disinfection. The virus does not survive for as long on fabric as on hard surfaces so leaving them for 24h before being used by a second individual should be fine. One issue is that of buttons or other fastenings of metal and plastic. The virus can last longer on these so they should be sprayed with ethanol, Milton’s/dilute bleach, hydrogen peroxide or a commercial antiviral product. (or they could be wiped but that will be more time consuming). Alternatively, the coat can simply be left for 72h between uses.
In Technology departments, most (if not all) schools have each workshop arranged with 5 work benches, each with 4 vices. 4 pupils are seated at each bench facing each other. Your guidance states that pupils should not face each other: what do we do?
In the guidance we say it is “important to arrange as far as possible that learners are not seated across from each other but side by side.”
There are many situations where tables and/or seating can be moved to facilitate this. Clearly though, in the situation described, it isn’t possible so you just carry on as normal – in that way at least.
The seating arrangement is just one approach: enhanced, sanitising, restrictions of students moving round, fixed groups if possible, keeping distances where possible etc will all contribute, along with the seating arrangements. So just do what you can, and don’t worry too much about what you can’t do. It is, after all, guidance, not instruction from the Government.
Most of the schools in our area have been issued with huge quantities of hand sanitiser – 1750 litres in my school! What are your recommendations for where we should be storing this?
We are currently (7the August) investigating further but unless there has been an exemption put in place (possible but we are not aware of one) then if the hand sanitiser is alcohol based then it is a flammable liquid and thus, under the requirements of DSEAR, need to be stored as such. These quantities obviously create probelms for a school.
A better option would be for the council to see about storing it centrally – as they will be able to find suitable storage more easily – and send it out in smaller quantities.
Even so, there will still need to be suitable storage on site. So either a room will need to be converted to a flammable store (possible a little used toilet could be adapted as it already has ventilation) or one or more flammable cabinets will need to be purchased and positioned in a suitable place. The details will depend on how much is stored on the premises at any one time.
This is, however, like all Health and Safety issues, a matter for the employer. So the school should contact ther Local Authority and raise the issue with them.