All laboratories need at least a building, power supply, and water supply that suits their activities. Most often, laboratories are hampered in their operation because of limited space or inefficient use of the space available. This is because insufficient attention has been given to the design and planning of the laboratory.
The first and most essential part in planning a health laboratory is for those involved, i.e. the laboratory personnel, health officials and administrators, and the architect, to have a clear idea of laboratory requirements. The laboratory technician plays a leading role in the planning and design of laboratory facilities.
Therefore, he/she must particularly:
• The geographical area where it will serve best
• The space and equipment required
The lab technician should workout this in collaboration with the health administrator and the architect, to prepare a functional program giving details on the size and the general characteristics of the laboratory to be designed, taking budgetary considerations into account. This functional program will consist of a detailed description (qualitative and quantitative) of the activities of each unit and thus determine the space and equipment required. It should also give full information about the operation of the laboratory so that the architect may design the layout more efficiently.
The procedures for establishing basic requirement for laboratory facilities are determined after considering the following points.
1. The amount work to be performed
2. The type and number of technical units (e.g. parasitology, hematology, etc), i.e. the level of the laboratory
3. The number of personnel that will be working in each unit
4. The equipment and furniture required in each unit
5. The auxiliary areas needed: a. Administration, reception b. Technical washing, sterilization, reagent and media preparation, storage.
6. Utility Services and Distribution
The basic utility services such as water supply, sanitary drains, electricity etc., should always be provided in a laboratory. Proper and adequate supplies of these utilities have to be well thought and provided for a continued operation. In high laboratories, power failures or voltage drops may cause a lot of damage on expensive equipment. Therefore, adequate provision of power and emergency power supply like generator, have to be provided.
The main objectives of an emergency power system are:
• To ensure continued operation of safety equipment
• To prevent loss of specimens and reagents due to insufficient refrigeration or incubation.
7. The preferable locations for different units of the laboratory.
The following considerations are worth noting in the making of a laboratory building.
External and corridor walls are permanent. They can be made from a wide variety of materials depending on the cost and performance. Internal walls or inter-laboratory partitions especially for regional/referral hospitals and regional public health laboratories are to be considered as temporary; relatively inexpensive wall materials should be used so that they can be replaced easily at minimal cost.
Ceilings in laboratories must be of material that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. The entire ceiling area must provide a continuous seal to prevent contaminants from seeping through. Ceiling heights should be 2.55-2.88m.
Floors should be preferably of materials that are resistant to acids, alkali and salts. It should also be easily cleanable and disinfected.
Doors should provide an easy exit and be located in places where they will not interfere with equipment and laboratory benches. Laboratory doors should not be less than 1 meter wide so that equipment can pass through with ease. The doors in laboratories should always open towards the corridor.
Splitting the main door in half, and keeping the upper half open when the laboratory is in use can increase ventilation of the main laboratory room. This design is also convenient for receiving specimens from patients.
Natural light should be made available through windows. Therefore, windows should be fixed at least 90 cm above floor level. The window should be proportional to the floor area in the ratio of at least 1:5. The main laboratory working room should be built with large windows to provide a bright working environment.
This is also essential since laboratory workers frequently handle and use volatile toxic chemicals, hazardous biological materials, etc. The windows should not face the directions of the prevailing wind. This helps to avoid disturbance of weighing scales, blowing away of fine powders, excessive movement of fine particles in wet preparations. The windows should be protected and placed so that direct sun light does not enter the laboratory.
f. Air handling
Complete control of air circulation can be best achieved by taking advantage of natural ventilation, shading and thermal barriers.
In addition the following things are required:
Water supply: Ideally, the health center laboratory should be supplied with continuous running water. Distilled water or deionized water (water with a low concentration of salts) is essential for the preparation of lab reagents from basic chemicals
Electrical power: This is essential to operate the microscope and other lab equipment and to provide lighting for emergency work at night. Fluorescent tube lights provide bright light with low energy consumption. Light in the lab is enhanced by white paint on the walls, shelves, benches and cupboards.
Benches, Lockable cupboards, Shelves: Laboratory benches must be high enough to enable the lab staff to work while standing (0.9 meter high and 0.5 meter wide). Cupboards underneath the benches may extend throughout the main working room except near the power socket, where space should be left to allow the staff to sit comfortable while working. Benches should have a white Formica top, or be painted white oil-based paint, for easy cleaning.
Sinks and basins: The health center lab should be provided with two sinks in the main working room and one sink in the washing room. In the main working room one is used for staining and the other for hand washing. Ideally, the hand washing sink should be placed near the exit door. Sinks must be made of chemical resistant material, e.g. ceramic (porcelain), or PCV (plastic).
Laboratory Furniture: An official table and two chairs may be used as a reception desk and for collection of blood samples from patients. Stools for sitting while performing bench work should be approximately 0.6 meter high. A long bench should be placed in a covered, patient waiting area outside the lab.
Refrigeration: The following items in the health center laboratory require refrigeration:
• Control blood samples
• Serological kits
• Transport medium
• Specimens awaiting transportation to a reference labs, etc.
Toilets and latrines: Patients attending the health center lab should have access to toilets or latrines for specimen collection. These should be separated from those used by the health center staff. Where flush toilets are in use, latrines should also be available, in case of water shortage.