As laboratories slowly enter something akin to previous normalcy, the need intensifies for a contactless laboratory. Automated or digital processes which allow contactless work are becoming the new norm in the office space and is slowly translating into the laboratory environment. Convenience being the name of the game in the 21st Century with advancements in automation and technologies made with convenience and efficiency in mind, has allowed highly safe and efficient processes in the healthcare industry particularly. As this translates to laboratories such as research and clinical labs, this proves the way forward with equipment.

The COVID-19 virus can be transmitted effectively through the tiniest of water droplets, in fact down to a droplet 5 microns in diameter—about five eighths of the size of one red blood cell. Imagine, then, the effect of a sneeze on the hand then transmitted to a surface. Someone who touches the surface and does not sanitise, is not wearing protection and/or does not disinfect the surface, is almost certain to be infected. Therefore, touch-free equipment and frictionless systems will play a huge part in minimising risk of infection.

Here are a few things to consider for building up a touch free laboratory space.

1. Sensor technology

Use touch-free or hands-free appliances such as knee- or sensor-activated tapware, hands-free automatic sanitiser dispensers, or automated doors. This allows you to keep contact, and indeed cross-contamination in the lab, to a minimum.

Another important touchless feature which is not overly expensive is sensor-activated lights. A light switch on average is used once every two hours. Smaller rooms which have timers and sensors built into the lighting system provide a triple advantage. Power is saved, convenience is provided, and infection risk is eliminated.

Tapware is a simple system to convert to touchless, providing the greatest level from a contact perspective of infection prevention and reduction of cross-contamination—an essential feature in a laboratory.

2. Data digitisation

Building a touch free laboratory space will not simply mean touchless doors, touchless equipment or the implementation of sensors for everything. Making your data digital means for you that people in the laboratory are not required to handle physical copies of data. The maintenance of digital recording means for the laboratory that accuracy of data and ease of recording is provided for. Accurate recording is crucial to the laboratory technician, as it is the difference between success and total failure of certain laboratory processes.

Systems allowing data digitisation are a worthwhile investment for the laboratory, providing for vastly increased efficiency in both recording and sorting of data. Ultimately, this will bring both safety and return on investment in the long run.

3. Effective Ventilation and Filtration Systems

Ventilation and filtration systems will play a great factor in the laboratory. Knowing your filtration levels is essential when using this, as an air filter with too little protection will not filter out adequate levels of the virus.

Proper filters include HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air [Filter]), which has a minimum efficiency of 99.97%, at a test aerosol diameter of 0.3 microns (µm). This is a surgical grade filtration system, which, while not mandatory or necessary in most laboratory applications, will enhance safety in the laboratory. Many health facilities are using these as temporary installations to protect patients and staff from COVID 19.

Other methods are to install air ionisation, which negatively charges particles in the air. The now ionised particles are made up of more electrons than protons, meaning they are attracted to positively charged surfaces. This results in foreign particles in the air being removed from the air distribution. While this system is reasonably effective, it is only used as a system reducing and not eliminating the carrying of viruses in the air.

Effective ventilation will mean that air is not recycled but is fresh. This is most efficient when filtered on entry, providing high quality airflow into the laboratory/health space.

4. From Touch to Gesture/Facial Recognition

Haptic systems obviously will require ultimate maintenance of infection mitigation to be a viable post-COVID option in interface control. An increasing trend which is being recognised as a highly proficient and convenient system is the transition to gesture control and face recognition. Implementing these systems will remove the need for direct user interaction with systems, leading to minimisation of virus contact. Furthermore, implementing these systems will lead to endless possibilities of automation. Using facial recognition combined with IR measurements will mean that people will be allowed into spaces or disallowed based on the systems, such as locking systems, access granting, systems activation or covid detection. Activation based on facial recognition or gesture control of any system will reduce down time and stimulate higher efficiency in most applicable processes.

What Now?

Implementing systems such as these can quickly become costly, however are a great investment where the health of workers/consumers are concerned. Do your research and invest in the most appropriate system for your workspace.

Westlab’s Spaces Team are experts in laboratory planning and specification-relevant requirements. Speak to one of our specialists to discuss the best way to maximise the potential of your scientific space.