The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has highlighted the interdependency of healthcare systems and research organizations on manufacturers and suppliers of personnel protective equipment (PPE) and the need for well-trained personnel who can react quickly to changing working conditions. Reports on challenges faced by research laboratory workers (RLWs) are rare in contrast to the lived experience of hospital health care workers. We report on experiences gained by RLWs (e.g., molecular scientists, pathologists, autopsy assistants) who significantly contributed to combating the pandemic under particularly challenging conditions due to increased workload, sickness and interrupted PPE supply chains. RLWs perform a broad spectrum of work with SARS-CoV-2 such as autopsies, establishment of virus cultures and infection models, development and verification of diagnostics, performance of virus inactivation assays to investigate various antiviral agents including vaccines and evaluation of decontamination technologies in high containment biological laboratories (HCBL). Performance of autopsies and laboratory work increased substantially during the pandemic and thus led to highly demanding working conditions with working shifts of more than eight hours working in PPE that stressed individual limits and also the ergonomic and safety limits of PPE. We provide detailed insights into the challenges of the stressful daily laboratory routine since the pandemic began, lessons learned, and suggest solutions for better safety based on a case study of a newly established HCBL (i.e., BSL-3 laboratory) designed for autopsies and research laboratory work. Reduced personal risk, increased resilience, and stress resistance can be achieved by improved PPE components, better training, redundant safety measures, inculcating a culture of safety, and excellent teamwork.
Loibner, Martina; Barach, Paul; Wolfgruber, Stella; Langner, Christine; Stangl, Verena; Rieger, Julia; Föderl-Höbenreich, Esther; Hardt, Melina; Kicker, Eva; Groiss, Silvia; Zacharias, Martin; Wurm, Philipp; Gorkiewicz, Gregor; Regitnig, Peter; and Zatloukal, Kurt, "Resilience and Protection of Health Care and Research Laboratory Workers During the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic: Analysis and Case Study From an Austrian High Security Laboratory" (2022). College of Population Health Faculty Papers. Paper 151.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.