Orientation and Training of New Research Staff Members

Introduction

Training newly arriving graduate and undergraduate students in research laboratories is critical to personal safety and research success. During the COVID-19 pandemic, training of personnel is challenging due to physical distancing requirements and reduced staff on campus. Principal Investigators are responsible for ensuring that all personnel in their laboratories are effectively trained and competent to perform their duties. The information contained in this document should be used for all personnel, staff or students, who require training. 

This document was prepared to guide the orientation and training of new staff members. Many of its items are available in the Laboratory Specific Training Checklist available from Environment, Health and Safety. 

All research groups hosting undergraduate student research projects and onboarding new graduate students must have completed the Return to Campus Process. All COVID-19 general safety directives apply to all newly arrived personnel. 

Before starting

Online Training

All individuals working on campus must complete the Returning to Campus COVID-19 course, and research groups must ensure personnel are added to the ARISE system. 

There is additional online training for wet lab personnel, necessary courses are dependent on exposure to potential hazards: 

Research personnel can complete this training remotely at their own pace, but must have it completed before starting work in the lab. As per current institutional directives, all activities that can be performed completely remotely, should be done remotely. 

On Campus 

Many departments have established orientation processes. These should be evaluated to ensure that all COVID-19 directives can be followed. This may require several sessions, or that sessions may need to be conducted online.   

In-Person Training 

In most research laboratories, there is no substitute for in-person training. During COVID-19, this may be hampered by the following:

  • Limited personnel due to remote work by principal investigators, laboratory managers,  research associates or graduate students.
  • Limited access to departmental resources such as common equipment, stores or specialized services. 

Hazard assessments are a requirement of Alberta Occupational Health and Safety legislation. All new personnel should review the hazard assessments that apply to their work, and must have access to all of the hazard assessments for the research group. 

Safe Work Practices or Safe Operating Procedures are an important part of training of new personnel. They must be reviewed by new personnel before starting active work, and opportunities to ask questions and clarify items must be provided.   

Hands-on training at the bench or equipment should be conducted following normal lab procedures. Physical distancing should be maintained whenever possible; however, masks must be worn when distancing cannot be maintained. At this time N95 masks are not recommended as their supply is extremely limited and must be reserved for those who need them. Non-medical masks (disposable or reusable) are available from Supply Management Services.

Considerations

Department Resources and Personnel 

During COVID-19 restrictions, departmental personnel may be working remotely, either full or part-time.  All new trainees should be aware of who to contact in the event of issues or concerns. If there is common use equipment that is maintained by departmental technicians, hours should be clearly posted and contingency plans in place in the event the new graduate or undergraduate student will be on campus outside of current hours.  

Supervision and Working Alone

It is not recommended that undergraduate students work alone in research space, including laboratories.  Whenever possible, students should always be under the direct supervision of a competently trained person. Depending on the laboratory, this may be a senior graduate student, post-doctoral fellow, research associate, lab manager or the principal investigator. During COVID-19, many labs are working in different shifts to minimize numbers on campus. All individuals who may be supervising undergraduate students should be aware of project hazards, and have sufficient knowledge of project specifics.

Graduate students may work alone, however the principal investigator must be confident that the individual is competent and trained to work alone. This must include an assessment of the hazards in the lab and the procedures that may be undertaken when working alone. The lab must have an updated Working Alone Protocol, and contact information must be available.

Due to staffing changes and schedule constraints during the pandemic, trained supervisors may not always be available. Any personnel who are directing or supervising the work of another should complete the EHS Supervisor Professional Development Course, ensure they are aware of their responsibilities when supervising other laboratory personnel.