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The basic objectives of a microbiological research laboratory can be defined as follows:
Bearing these three objectives in mind, the initial step that should be taken in designing a microbiological research laboratory is an analysis of the research activities that will be undertaken, the hazards associated with each operation, and an evaluation of the relationships that exist between each activity. This analysis will enable the laboratory design manager to make significant economic savings as he/she will be able to gauge the extent of the hazardous operations and concentrate and minimize the amount of containment equipment required.
In addition to looking at the footprint of the equipment set up it is also important to consider the number of staff engaged in testing, the services (electricity, water and gas) required and mechanisms to control inadvertent release of microorganisms to the environment as well as cross-contamination. Furthermore, it is prudent to leave room for future expansion.
The design of a microbiology laboratory set up needs to address physical separation of spaces to carry out functions and meet safety, environmental, and other requirements in accordance with cGMP regulations.
In ‘Laboratory Design for Microbiological Safety’ a journal published in Applied Microbiology, Authors G. Briggs Phillips and Robert S. Runkle set out five functional zones that a micro-biological lab could be segregated into.
Phillips and Runkle propose the primary-secondary barrier concept to prevent cross contamination and management of microorganism release.
Primary barriers are enclosures, barriers, or other containment devices that immediately surround the infectious or potentially infectious material. As the first line of defence (other than the test tubes, flasks, etc.) they prevent the escape and possible spread of infectious microorganisms e.g. ventilated microbiological cabinets, closed ventilated animal cages and closed centrifuge cups.
The secondary barriers in a laboratory are the features of the building that surround the primary barriers. These provide a separation between infectious areas in the building and the outside community and between individual infectious areas within the same building. For example; floors, walls, and ceilings; ultraviolet air locks and door barriers; personnel change rooms and showers and differential pressures between areas within the building.
A different proposition is put forward by Ratul Saha in his article ‘Modern QC Microbiology Laboratory Design and Layout Considerations’. Saha suggests a ‘three zone concept’ where one zone embodies the laboratory space for sample testing, another encompasses the documentation area where the analysts record results and the third provides an area for non-testing project work and community interaction. He states that the key to the success of this arrangement is the adjacency between zone one and two, they need to be integrated but still require a certain amount of separation in order to create a suitable and safe environment. Put simply, the recording of the data generated from testing should be performed within the microbiology laboratory space but separation should be in place between sample testing and documentation area.
The implementation of lean concepts into its design and layout can have significant impact on the success of modern microbiology labs. The design of laboratories have significant impact on lab processes, behaviours, and communications and a good design will proactively support lean processes including flow, visual management, and quality work. Benefits of implementing lean include improved turnaround time, reduce redundancy, elimination of wasteful steps, and improved quality control.
Lean allows laboratory personnel to work smart instead of hard, as the real intent of lean is to maximize value by minimizing all wasteful practices. Although laboratories are not entirely the same as manufacturing environments, lean can be implemented by careful adaptation of techniques based on a thorough understanding of laboratory processes. The layout of the laboratories and support areas should encourage a sensible material flow, separation of different activities, and sound waste disposal practices. Techniques such as Kaizen and the 5S lean methodology can work just as well in the laboratory environment to improve efficiencies and lab safety of employees.
Your microbiology lab should have sufficient space for the equipment necessary to carry out all activities. Mix ups must be avoided at all costs to prevent any threat of cross-contamination.
Petri dishes used for counting colonies should be stored in dedicated locations and separated from other areas, especially from production areas. It is important to check that storage is of sufficient size for glassware, portable instrumentation, microbiological media, supplies, reagents, solvents, chemicals and materials.
Heat generated from equipment must also be taken into consideration. Autoclaves, incubators, fridges, and freezers all output significant amounts of heat leading to a dramatic increase in room temperatures, particularly in smaller microbiology labs. When specifying the air condition careful consideration should be given to the heat generated by appliances so that this can be taken account of and the temperature balanced accordingly.
Management of odours can be a challenge in microbiology labs however there are a number of ways this can be combated.
It is good practice to have separate air supply to laboratories and production areas. It is also important to ensure the air supplied to the laboratory is of appropriate quality and not a source of contamination. As mentioned earlier, pressure differentials can help separate clean room areas.
Work areas for opening test sample containers should be either a HEPA filtered laminar flow hood or an alternate controlled environment to safeguard the exposure of open media and product to contamination.
The laboratory is the workplace of progress and advancement. No other area is growing as rapidly and in no other work environment are there so many innovations. However with this growth comes an increased focus on ergonomics, particularly with regards to laboratory chairs. Having an ergonomically proven seat can not only protect the health of your valuable personnel but also improve work performance by preventing early fatigue. This in turn helps reduce absenteeism as musculoskeletal injuries resulting from wrong posture can be prevented.
Whether it is in the laboratory, in the production area or in the office, humans are not made for static sitting. There is a widespread misunderstanding that there is one single sitting posture that can be deemed correct and healthy. In actual fact, it is only constant movement and the permanent change of position on the chair that can relieve tension in the body.
The laboratory is a place with very particular requirements and demands, not least in relation to its workplace ergonomics. However, very often it is just not possible to move to relieve the tension in the body.
Continuously repetitive hand movements and a static body posture, such as the forward-inclined working posture, typical of laboratory work, are part of everyday life for many lab technicians. This is where a specially designed laboratory chair such as the Bimos labsit can help. A chair that meets all the specific requirements can take the strain off the body as much as possible, and at the same time guarantee the necessary support.
The most important factor when working in any laboratory is hygiene. This applies across all industries but is essential in microbiology labs; there is almost no other field where the impact of contamination can influence the outcome of its work so drastically. Microorganisms are invisible, ubiquitous in nature, carried by humans and could grow into large populations in a short space of time. During testing of microorganisms, laboratories provide highly conducive environment for microbial growth. Laboratories need to develop techniques to manage areas of high microbial populations. Below are some points to consider in relation to maintaining a hygienic environment.
Chairs – ensure the surfaces are washable, while at the same time resistant to all common chemicals, as well as disinfectants and cleaning agents. Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is often an underestimated factor in the area of laboratory hygiene and can mean that the tiniest impurities settle on charged surfaces. Having a chair that counters these issues such as the Bimos labsit can greatly improve accuracy of results – see more information
Sinks – The under-slung sinks are easy to wipe wastage into, eliminating the problem of contamination in joints and edging surrounding surface mounted sinks and drainers.
Entry points – Entry to sterility test clean room should be via an airlock in which operators are required to change into clean room garments.
In designing a microbiology laboratory, it is important to keep in perspective the nature of the microorganisms, the potential sources of cross-contamination, the nature of the test materials, as well as the regulatory requirements in the industry. The generation and collection of data is key to ensuring product quality and ultimately patient safety.
See this recent article discussing pharmaceutical laboratory design and good manufacturing practices.