Going forward, 2021 labs will inevitably have measures taken to prevent infection over and above previous cautionary measures. COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed most things. Laboratories will be as likely to suffer the same exposure levels as other areas, if not more.
As seen with retail stores and the likes, professional advice led to the use of a single and separate entry and exit. Laboratories with defined processes will likely use this flow, where employees enter in specific areas and exit through the other end.
This traffic flow is helpful for tracking employee numbers in the areas and will assist in further measures such as prevention of cross-contamination. Facilities such as an entry and exit foyer will allow employees to safely dispose of PPE and to use whatever infection prevention methods necessary to maintain disease and cross-contamination safety.
The capacity of a laboratory will also likely undergo changes. To take the greatest measures possible in the field of infection prevention, social distancing will almost certainly have its’ say. To accommodate for essential numbers of staff, social distancing will likely take a place in the considerations when designing a new laboratory. This also has its advantages, as improved working space for laboratory users ultimately will increase efficiency, productivity and overall capacity.
Infection prevention is one of the largest motivators for the post-COVID laboratory design changes, this extends to the use of equipment in a different way.
Touchless faucets will be a key consideration where it is a genuine safety consideration rather than a luxury as previously considered in many directions. A tap handle on average contains around 600 times more microorganisms per square inch than a toilet handle, which justifies the use of a touchless faucet.
Rather than re-contaminating your hands by turning the tap off via the handle you just used, a simple wave, voice command, or a timed closure means you can maintain laboratory-grade hygiene practices. Other ‘touchless’ methods include a knee- or foot-operated tap, reducing contact, and enabling full infection prevention.
Other touchless equipment likely to be used is common touchpoints such as lights, dispensers, doors, and other equipment. Touchless dispensers allow adequate doses of consumables such as sanitisers, while maintaining the prevention of cross-contamination.
Touchless doors (common in commercial areas but not in laboratories) allow for safe entry and exit while facilitating convenience for all workers. Furthermore, requirements for a laboratory such as an airlock or internal air pressure requirements can be easily facilitated with reliable elimination of human error.
Touchless screens/interfaces have also advanced particularly over the pandemic period. As a solution to the contaminative user-interaction with capacitive touch screens, ‘hover screens’ allow the user to interact without physically touching the screen, as seen with Jaguar Land Rover and the University of Cambridge. High-definition sensors behind the screen allow pointing and gestures to control functions in the same way one would use a touchscreen. This is a crucial step towards infection prevention and will likely take a more commonplace in public venues, and likely in the laboratory.
Elimination of touch in the laboratory could be a crucial step in the handling of equipment and controlling of functions. By not having to touch equipment interfaces, the laboratory can totally eliminate touch-related cross-contamination.
The use of QR and bar codes in 2020 dramatically rose. With public venues requiring registration via an app and extending to the use of QR codes for touch-free payments, this is set to become a much-used tech feature.
Applications in the laboratory for QR codes make sense: registration and tracking of samples, automatic handling of samples by QR scanning, consumables and storage tracking, employee registration and processing. A no-brainer for both efficiency of systems and prevention of infection, QR codes are an effective means by which to manage the lab.
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Who knows what 2021 will bring? If 2020 is anything to go by, unpredictable is perhaps the most fitting description. By following the design trends focussed on key principles of efficiency—safety, sustainability and flexibility—the laboratory has the best chances of safety and success and will give a competitive advantage in the long haul.
Westlab’s team of experienced specialists will provide free quotes and initial designs for your benefit.