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#RestartYourLab - What do I need to check when reopening the lab?

Promega UK (24 July 2020)

These are unusual times, and unlike ‘normal’ annual leave during the summer months, people are returning to empty labs after many weeks away. Whilst some labs have been open all the time other personnel are still to return as they have been isolating or remaining at home with shielding family members. If your lab has been empty, for most or all of Lockdown there are certain things that should be checked.

Below is a list to help you; as things return to the new normal:

  • Firstly, and most importantly make sure you and everyone else in the lab, and those supporting you in the lab, are aware of the new guidelines and the new normal with regards to keeping everyone safe – social distancing, face, coverings, washing hands, any new changes such as propping doors open, hand sanitiser locations, disposing of waste including gloves and tissues, rules about cleaning surfaces and common touchpoints (including coffee and tea areas)
  • Thoroughly clean and carry out a test run on all equipment before using with those important samples (remember too that any air conditioning units should have been maintained and flushed out to avoid the risk of Legionnaires' disease)
  • Check stored items such as pre-packed columns, and make sure you check the expiration dates on products (ambiently stored as well as those in fridges and freezers)
  • Make sure you know if anything in the freezers has defrosted and that the master mix is still useable
  • Test reagents with a positive control. This will make sure they perform as expected before you use them for your work
  • Inspect the buffers for any precipitates - whenever possible make fresh ones
  • Make fresh agar plates - plates with antibiotics are probably no longer of use
  • Make sure nothing has leaked or become contaminated; that everything is maintained, fresh and functional
  • Check the incubator still holds the temperature correctly
  • Check all the fittings on the High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) are still tight
  • Check if any pumps need oiling or other maintenance is needed
  • Make sure the gel electrophoresis box has not overflowed with dead bugs
  • Make sure the water baths are not overrun with new algae
  • Calibrate pipettes and fill tip boxes so you are ready when you start work again
  • Ideally, everyone should have their own markers and stationery as well as pipettes to reduce sharing.


On a more personal note, be prepared to be a little stressed when returning. It has been a long-time since you were last in the lab, so it is only natural to worry if everything will be safe and working correctly. By thinking through what you need and planning ahead you will reduce the stress. Think about what you need for any work you are planning, as well as how to keep your hands and the surfaces you touch clean.


Some habits will have to change when you are back in the lab, especially with regards to social distancing and possibly the wearing of face coverings. There may be one-way markings and extra signs, new shields or barriers between benches or equipment rearranged to provide more space.


You may have to split into shifts, so there are shift bubbles and less people physically in the lab at any one time. Working at home is not all bad, especially when planned. It gives you time to read papers and carry out data analysis quietly. 


You may also like to read our 10 Tips to Maintain Physical Distancing in the Lab for even more ideas. 

Please note:

Labs should check and understand local guidelines before commencing any lab work. Promega is not responsible for any issues arising from this article, which is for guidance only and may not apply for your institution or organisation. Please always check with the relevant manager or department if you have any questions or concerns.

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