Toxicology is the study of the effects of chemicals and physical agents on living organisms. Toxicology is used in crime labs to find and analyze substances—drugs and alcohol—which impair a person’s ability to reason or function. This article will provide design guidelines for toxicology laboratories that provide you with ideas on how you might better renovate your existing toxicology spaces or plan for these labs in a new space. The guidelines are based on what Crime Lab Design generally has seen and recommends in toxicology labs.

One of the first steps in designing and planning laboratories for toxicology is to separate the various processes to be preformed in the spaces and determine what each process requires in the way of infrastructure and support. By the nature of these requirements, some processes need to occur in their own rooms or spaces, while others can occur in shared areas. The majority of activities will occur in the main tox lab. This laboratory provides each analyst with a workstation for examination. Adjacent or near to the main lab are supporting spaces, for example an instrument room. Office space is also needed, separate from the laboratories. Office space can be private, shared, open, hoteling (for shift work), or community (bullpen for groups) depending on your institution’s preferences and available space and funding.

Bubble diagram for determining adjacency of spaces when designing a toxicology laboratory.

After the various toxicology processes have been sorted into spaces, the following guidelines can help determine what spaces need to be directly adjacent to one another, what will likely be in each space, and these ideas can begin the process of determining how large each space needs to be.

Toxicology Laboratory Design Guidelines

  • Bio Vestibule
    o Entry into the lab should be through a bio vestibule. The vestibule helps control air flow, preventing lab air from passing out into the corridor, and acts as an overall barrier against cross contamination
    o The vestibule should be equipped with a hand wash sink
  • Main Toxicology Laboratory Space
    o Each analyst should have his or her own workstation, with ideally 15 linear feet of bench space per analyst
    o Individual in-process secure evidence storage
    o Individual spot ventilation, fume hood, or biological safety cabinet
    o Sink (may be shared between two analysts)
    oMiscellaneous bench space with hood(s) and sink(s) as required for specific equipment and procedures
    o Stand-alone specimen processing room may be required in addition to analyst workstations, depending on operation and accreditation requirements
    o Special processing of waste may be required
  • Instrumentation room
    o Bench space for each instrument with adjacent layoff bench space
    o Free access space to the rear of each instrument for maintenance and utility access
    o Instrument maintenance space within the instrument room with fume hood, solvent storage, and sink
    o Shelving for the storage of reference materials and manuals
    o Dry fire-suppression system
    o Adequate data and electrical ports for computers and instruments
    o Special planning is needed to provide correct utilities, including lab gasses, to each instrument per its individual needs
  • Refrigerated storage
    o As required in addition to in-process evidence storage in workstations
    o May be refrigerators in main laboratory space or in separate room
    o May be walk-in refrigerator and/or freezer
    o All lab refrigerators and freezers should be on emergency power
  • Reagent preparation
    o May be in a separate room or part of the main laboratory space
  • Chemical preparation bench space
    o Fume hood(s) with solvent and separate acid and alkali storage base cabinets
    o Glassware/flask washer with bench space for glassware sorting
    o Double sink
    o Bench space as required for specific equipment and procedures
    o Flammable materials storage refrigerator
  • Robotics
    o May be in a separate room or part of the main laboratory space
    o Type of robotics equipment and apparatus will dictate space and utility requirements
  • Administrative work spaces
    o Supervisor’s office
    o Analysts’ administrative workstations
    o Case review: space for small table and chairs where three or four analysts can confer informally

These are general design guidelines for toxicology spaces. But this list does not account for the qualitative aspects of the facility. Laboratory design must address the quality of the work environment for all personnel. CLD focuses its design solutions on people and strives to enhance the human factors in every facility. This is reinforced through a design producing an environment that enhances communication and promotes productivity within and between various forensic sections of the lab.

A variety of functional elements can drive the architectural and engineering design solution for a toxicology laboratory. Requirements such as: scientific mythology, process, and instrumentation are just a few of the variables that generate space, dimension, and adjacency requirements that affect the overall solution. There is not one universally correct solution for a toxicology lab; solutions will differ according to the needs of the criminalists and analysts.

Flexibility is a key element in driving a forensic laboratory’s design and configuration. In recent years, one message in particular has been made clear to the scientific, architectural, and building industry professions: new forensic laboratories must be designed with the flexibility to support adaptability and change. Adaptability in a laboratory is a function of how the buildings, rooms, and systems can grow and change with the needs of its occupants. For example, over the past several years scientific advancement in DNA has forced forensic laboratories to adapt to new designs in order to decrease the risk of contamination and ensure the accuracy of technical data. As science and technology changes, forensic laboratories must be capable of embracing the future.

All toxicology laboratories are different. Specific procedures and processes being done in the lab and specific situations will require different solutions. But all toxicology laboratories possess similar characteristics as they are performing similar functions. The ideas and guidelines above provide general ideas for well designed toxicology spaces.

Ken Mohr is a Principal and Senior Forensic Planner with Crime Lab Design which provides full architectural and engineering services for forensic and medical examiner facilities worldwide.