Laboratory clearance and decommissioning procedures

1.  Introduction

This policy is directed at departments that need to hand back space, especially laboratory space, to other occupants within their own department, or to the Estates Services for allocation to other departments or for other purposes. It provides guidance on the University’s procedures for relinquishing space and applies equally where the space is to be reoccupied by another group or department, used for a different purpose, or where buildings are to be vacated or demolished.

The University’s Estates Regulations (the Grey Book) already require departments to ensure that any space is free of hazards arising from their occupation before it may be handed back. However, considerable work and expenditure has sometimes been required after buildings have been vacated in order to bring them to a standard fit for reoccupation, or before they are fit to be handed over to building contractors. Similar difficulties have been experienced where research groups have closed down, members of staff have retired, or where individuals with emeritus status have left. Legacy wastes left behind on such occasions in the past have proved extremely difficult or very costly to dispose of, and in some cases the retention of legacy waste may be in breach of legislation.

2.  Responsibilities for space clearance

Although heads of departments are ultimately responsible for ensuring vacated space is free from hazards, day-to-day responsibility for clearance generally rests with the group leaders or principal investigators involved. They must ensure arrangements are put in place, in good time and with sufficient resources, to ensure that all areas under their control are free of biological, chemical, physical, and radiological hazards, fit for others to work in and that all hazardous materials have been disposed of according to University policy before they are vacated.

Group leaders/principal investigators should ensure that individuals within their groups recognise their own role in achieving this.

In the case of individuals with emeritus status, or visiting workers not under the control of a group leader or principal investigator, the head of department should assume responsibility for the above arrangements. Research Services publishes a Visiting Researchers Agreement intended for use by short-term visitors ( http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/rso/contracts/) and can advise on a form of words suitable for longer-term visitors. By signing such agreements visitors agree to comply with the requirements of University and departmental policies, including this one.

3.  Planning for space clearance

Most of the difficulties that arise when space is relinquished can be avoided by good planning, especially in relation to the disposal of unwanted or hazardous materials.

Departments should maintain records of laboratories where hazardous materials, especially radioactive materials, are being and have been used. Records should include the materials (or classes of materials) used, any isotopes used, and the dates between which they were used. This information will avoid the need to carry out unnecessary decontamination work or clearance surveys, and will enable the University to comply fully with its Environment Agency permit conditions.

4.  Removal of materials and equipment

All unwanted, non-hazardous materials must be removed, recycled, or otherwise disposed of, and not simply left behind.

Hazardous materials (e.g. useful chemicals, biological or radioactive material) may need to be moved to new locations, in which case proper labelling and packing will be required. Advice should be sought from DSOs, ASOs or the University Safety Office where there is doubt about how to proceed.

Where hazardous material is no longer wanted, it must be disposed of via the University Safety Office.

5.  Removal of residual hazardous materials

Good laboratory practice, compliance with University safety policy and careful attention to dealing with spillages should mean that rooms and equipment are in a safe condition. However, additional steps must be taken when vacating space and where necessary (e.g. in areas where unsealed radioactive materials have been used) measurements must be made to verify the effectiveness of decontamination.

  • All hazardous material must be removed from the space, checking that no containers or samples have been left in, beneath, or behind cupboards, fridges, or freezers.
  • Surfaces of benches, floors, and fume cupboards should be cleaned (and disinfected with 1% Virkon where necessary because of the type of work that has been carried out).
  • Sinks and traps should be liberally flushed with water (after first disinfecting with 1% Virkon if necessary because of the type of work that has been carried out).
  • Sink traps must then be removed and emptied of sharps, glass, mercury etc.
  • All floors, bench surfaces, drawers, cupboards, sinks, fume cupboards etc must be cleared of sharps and broken glass.
  • Where necessary (because of the type of work that has been carried out) specific tests for chemical contamination should be considered and carried out (e.g. for vapour arising from spilt mercury in the gaps of wood block floors)
  • Where necessary (because of the type of work that has been carried out) floors, surfaces, sinks and traps should be monitored for radiation contamination and the results recorded.
  • The accessible surfaces of fume cupboards should be cleaned. Where necessary (because of the type of work that has been carried out) the surfaces and accessible parts of ductwork should be monitored for radiation contamination and the results recorded.
  • The results of radiation surveys must be reported to the Safety Office, both for record keeping purposes (to satisfy Environment Agency permit conditions) and in case Safety Office action is required (e.g. dealing with fixed contamination, or carrying out an independent survey). The clearance report in Appendix 1 includes all the details required for the survey and departments are expected to use it.
  • If at any time significant fixed radiation contamination is discovered then the Safety Office must be consulted without delay.
  • Once cleaning has been completed and provided no contamination has been found, all warning labels must be removed, except in the case of some drain runs. Where these have been used to dispose of radioactive waste and contamination monitoring beyond the sink trap has not been possible (as is usually the case) then radiation warning labels should be left in place.

6.  Checklists

The checklists in Appendix 2 may be useful in ensuring the clearance process has been approached methodically. Departments are free to use other formats, provided they address the points contained in these checklists.

7.  Confirmation of clearance

The specimen certificates in Appendix 3 may be useful for providing confirmation to interested parties that clearance and decontamination has been successfully completed. Departments are free to use other formats, provided they address the points contained in these certificates.

Radiological clearance surveys must be submitted to the Safety Office using the form in Appendix 1. Where these are satisfactory then confirmation will be provided to the department’s SRPS that the areas surveyed are fit for reoccupation/handover.

THIS STATEMENT FORMS PART OF THE UNIVERSITY’S SAFETY POLICY. PLEASE AMEND THE INDEX. 

March 2010