A proper laboratory design can save space, facilitate the work flow, increase safety, save time and energy of personnel, and create a joyful environment to work in. All of these benefits plus many more will ultimately increase the productivity of the laboratory.
In laboratory design, usage of the utmost limited space along with consideration of the number of laboratory personnel, laboratory instruments, laboratory wards, laboratory tests, cabinets, and storage space (refrigerated and non-refrigerated) are all very important.
Additionally, proper ventilation, accessible sinks with emergency eye wash and shower, proper sewer system, proper lights, proper electricity supply (such as power source), and proper outlets for laboratory instruments also affect the design of the laboratory. One will also want to consider the number of computers on desks that corresponds to the number of personnel on each shift.
In some cases, because of economic considerations, laboratories utilize minimum space to start with. Then, when there is an increase of the laboratory activities, the expansion of the laboratory space will be taking into consideration. Prospective considerations are always recommended.
Cabinets should be ordered from companies who specialize in providing cabinets for medical and laboratory facilities rather than ordering kitchen made cabinets. Specialized cabinets made for a laboratory with resistant countertops to chemicals and detergents are easier to clean up and safer for use in a clinical laboratory.
Drawers have to be very smooth, and opening and closing has to be very comfortable for the personnel.
Wall cabinets preferably with sliding doors can prevent accidental head damages to personnel.
Thought and consideration should be given when placing sinks in a laboratory. They should be placed in several locations so that the any emergency case can be handled immediately by laboratory personnel.
Sewer system should be taken into account. It is important to ensure that all of the local safety regulations are followed.
Isolated area should be made to keep the waste before the final removal from the laboratory.
One should consider usage, and access to the storage when arranging instruments in the laboratory. Additionally, instruments should be placed adjacent to cabinets for filing QC records and instrument manuals. Electric cords of instruments have to be managed and kept very organized and shouldn't be a distraction for the personnel. One should also leave enough clearance around and behind the instruments for accessibility to parts of the instruments for changing reagents or troubleshooting.
This would also be wise in case one needs to change the ink for a printer or take care of a paper jam. When designing a laboratory, try not to install the instruments that will have a negative impact in working with each other such as centrifuge with cell counter, and other motion and shake sensitive instruments. Also take consideration of any heat producing instruments with temperature sensitive instruments.
Allies and Passage Space
Consideration of optimal passage space for easy passage of personnel without physical contact is highly recommended. This will help to avoid distraction, comfort and most importantly, helps ensure safety. Avoid trafficking of patients and other unauthorized people to the laboratory processing and analysis area, and this should be taken into account in laboratory design.
Location should be in an area that avoids passage of personnel wearing lab coats. It is also highly recommended not to allow patients or any other unauthorized people in that area.
Before arriving, all personnel clothing should be placed in the laboratory analysis area to avoid contamination.
Recommended to place in an area that avoids contamination with patients' samples and biological agents.
Personnel variations with regards of height, weight, sex, age, physical conditions or disabilities needs to be considered in order for staff to perform their duties. Consideration of these differences can prevent ergonomic injuries. Individual variations such as body structure, gender, age, physical condition and pre-existing conditions can all impact in an employees' work performance. Preventing of ergonomic injuries should be considered in a laboratory environment.
In addition to design and the placement of extinguishers in proper areas, personnel should be thoroughly trained about the usage and types of extinguishers in case of a fire and staff should have knowledge of fire hazards in a laboratory.
Prevention and safety precautions are also extremely important. Consideration of exit doors and windows in case of an emergency for personnel and patients should be taken into account when designing a laboratory.
Working with chemicals in laboratories, based on the type of chemicals, involves some sort of risks. Knowledge of proper handling and storage of chemicals can greatly reduce the potential of an accident in the laboratory. Consideration of a fume hood, based on the local safety regulations, can minimize the risk of chemical exposure.
Biological Safety Cabinets
Precautions should be made to eliminate the exposure of personnel and other people and environment from dangerous microorganisms based on the biological class of the laboratory and the local safety codes.
Wall and Floors
Should be washable especially in the case of cleaning up biological and chemical spills.
Automatic opening doors should be used in order to avoid contamination of doorknobs.
Maintaining the optimal room temperature for the laboratory at all times is very important. Heat and cool air has to be spread evenly in all parts of the laboratory. Extreme cold or heat in some part of a laboratory can lead to probable negative impact in reagents, instruments or samples. This can also cause personnel's discomfort and can have a negative impact on work performance.
Good lighting in a laboratory is essential. This is particularly important for those personnel working in phlebotomy, sample processing, or an analysis area. Burned or weak light sources should be changed immediately with new light sources.
Personal Protective Devices
Should be placed in a area that personnel will need to use. For example, optimal locations could be a processing area and any area in the lab that they might work with open blood or other body fluids samples. The use of UV protective shields should be considered if deemed necessary.
Flat Screen Monitors and TVs
Especially in reference and hospital laboratories, flat screen monitors and TVs can be efficient for communication in informing laboratory personnel about the current issues in the laboratory.
The recent big flat screens TV have become popular and because of their dimensions, they don't occupy much space and they can be mounted on the wall. These flat screen TVs or monitors can also be used as bulletin board for sending important messages to the laboratory personnel. For instance, the big screen monitor (TV) can be used as a bulletin board to announce the stat samples for a technician's attention, and inform personnel of the status of stat samples analysis and reporting for large reference and hospital laboratories. In addition, a large flat screen TV system can be used for sending messages to a specific department.
Proper Sound System
Paging a patient or personnel utilizing a good sound system is both convenient and helpful.
Security and Surveillance Cameras
In addition to security function of this technology, this is an efficient tool to observe all the laboratory areas in one screen, from reception, phlebotomy room, patients in waiting room, main lab area and personnel. Interestingly, nowadays through Internet technology, these observations can be accessed from outside of the laboratory premises giving 24 hour coverage if necessary.
Automated faucets or pedestal operated faucets, and touch free soap and paper towel dispensers are highly recommended. These types of faucets, soap and paper towel dispensers are more sanitary and are recommended for the laboratories and other health care facilities for employees and patients.
The key to a successful laboratory design is to create a safe, comfortable and joyful working environment for all laboratory personnel to perform their duties in the most safe and efficient way. When designing a laboratory, a combination of art, extensive experience, expertise and careful consideration of all working aspects is absolutely essential.
Dr. Yaraei is president and senior clinical laboratory consultant at MicroMed (www.micromedlab.com).