Risk reduction strategies in the IVF laboratory setting – PART TWO

Laboratory design and risk reduction

When we are in workplace environments, we inwardly groan when we hear the words health and safety. But should we?

The health and safety culture initially grew from necessity during the Industrial Revolution. However, in the last couple of decades of the 20th Century, it took on a life of its own! This was driven by a culture of litigation in the US that seems to have spread its tentacles into Europe.

However, an emphasis on health and safety is wise when we stand precariously close to all kinds of hazards. Health and safety has its roots in risk management, which is an economic necessity for any organisation. Especially in a business where risks are inherent.

The consequences of taking risk in businesses where science is involved can probably best be exemplified by the Chernobyl disaster. Most people working in laboratory science can cite their own examples where risks were allowed to flourish with unfortunate consequences. I myself worked in a laboratory for a few years as a young man. More recently as a teacher, I used to scare pupils in to doing things safely in chemistry lessons. The hair-raising story about poor laboratory handling of alkali metals always got their attention!

In an IVF clinic, management of risk in the laboratory covers laboratory design, construction and ergonomics.

What do we mean by risk management in terms of laboratory design?

Generally, local standards are often available that offer guidance on many aspects of laboratory design, a good example is AS/NZS 2982:20101.

This can include guidance on:

  • Floor types
  • Bench heights/ergonomics
  • Safe distances between workstations
  • Passageways, passing points and corridor traffic management
  • Laboratory lighting
  • Ventilation
  • Hazardous waste storage
  • Special considerations (chemical hazards, radiation)

That said, there is no local Bible for how to build a modern, clean, safe and efficient laboratory. The same is true for international standards. However, international standards can provide excellent guidance on specific aspects of laboratory design. Especially pertaining to things like air quality standards (e.g. ISO14644)2. These detail different aspects of lab design and can be useful to construct your own Bible for the ideal laboratory.

IVF laboratories DO have some unique requirements that fall outside the scope of general laboratory design standards.

In particular, these include:

  • Suitable distances between workstations and incubators (ideally these should be as short as possible)
  • Liquid nitrogen rooms
  • Workflow considerations related to the number of cycles that are expected to be performed
  • Access to embryo transfer rooms and means of transportation of embryos
  • Security monitoring
  • Location of alarm panels and monitoring of incubators

The particular requirements will vary and can only really be determined by experience. It’s a good idea to visit different facilities to see how they manage their requirement. Then you can match them with your own requirements.

A good laboratory system can be designed by combining local and international standards appropriately.

But what about minimising risk in laboratories that already exist?

Particularly those experiencing cycle growth, where extra space for workstations and staff is not possible?

Considerations in such a scenario might include:

  1. A requirement to change workstation type/size. With consequent training of staff to ensure that any change in workstations does not negatively affect outcome.
  2. Minimising walking distances and staff movements in small areas.

Reducing dish movement distances is helpful in lessening the risk of tripping, dropping and bumping embryo dishes. Aspects of design that can help with this include self-sufficient work pods containing culture incubators, heated workbenches and microinjection equipment.

  1. Installing culture incubators away from areas of staff movement.

It is good laboratory design practice to ensure that any access paths are situated away from culture incubators. Quite often this will take the form of a dedicated movement channel to and from the incubators only. This minimises the chance of human traffic from other areas interfering or hindering progress with the entailed increase in risk.

  1. Creating or utilising an external room for storage of nitrogen tanks.

It is good practice to separate nitrogen tanks away from staff. Any locked room will do PROVIDING that:

  • Appropriate safety methods are in place, such as oxygen monitoring sensors and external warning systems
  • Staff are trained in appropriate methods of moving frozen material to and from the storage room.

Obviously, reconsideration of these items will entail a cost. However, this is easily offset against the cost of the consequences of risk entailed by an increase in workload. At some point, however, a scenario might be reached whereby it makes sense to simply start afresh if one’s business has expanded greatly beyond the capacity of its current laboratory.


  1. AS/NZS2982:2010. Laboratory design and construction. https://www.saiglobal.com
  2. ISO14644 1-7: Cleanrooms and associated controlled environments. Https://infostore.saiglobal.com

Neil Madden, Editor

The Fertility Hub