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Towards An Ideal Forensics Laboratory

Towards An Ideal Forensics Laboratory In Malaysia

Introduction

Based on ‘Kamus Dewan’ fourth edition, laboratory is a place where all the trial and research regarding a science including chemistry, physic and biology. Therefore, forensics laboratory can be defined as a place where all trial and research been to get an information to assist criminal investigation.

An ideal forensics laboratory should resemble a one-stop centre offering services from all specific disciplines of forensics such as toxicology laboratory, biology laboratory and also ballistic and explosive. Besides that, one more criteria for an ideal forensics laboratory is the ability to adapt and support the development various equipment.

Basic Phase in Laboratory Construction

In constructing a new forensics laboratory, there are 4 basics phase that should be focused into, namely planning, design, pre-construction and transfer.

  • Planning
    • In this phase, user will evaluate the existing facilities and detailed the facilities needed. Then, user defines space requirement and project costing. From the data collected, drawings and system will be prepared by architect and engineer.
  • Design
    • Various laboratories are designed based on the need of services offered. Generally, the is no one correct plan to design a forensics laboratory because it depends on the specific purpose of the laboratory. As such, a laboratory that carries out chemical analysis requires a large space and good ventilation compared with a laboratory that carries out physical analysis.
       
  • Pre-construction
    • Before the beginning of the construction phase, a final confirmation on the plan is crucial as changes of the plan after this phase will incur cost and time.
       
  • Transfer
    • This the last phase where all new equipment will be installed in the laboratory or the transfer of used equipment from old laboratory to new laboratory. To avoid any interruption, the process must be done systematically. It can be divided into pre-transfer, during-the-transfer and post-transfer. All relevant and experienced personnel need to be engaged at this phase to monitor and ensure a smooth transfer of equipment.

Scope of Forensics Laboratory in Malaysia

  • Toxicology Laboratory
    • This laboratory provides the service of analysis of blood and urine to detect presence of drug, alcohol, poison and foreign substance. Result from the analysis will used to assist medical doctor to give a cause of death.
    • This laboratory uses a hazardous chemical reagent in the analysis process. Thus the design of the laboratory should meet the certain standard requirements like sufficient ventilation and an isolated room to carry out every procedure.
    • Some of the basic equipment in the laboratory are ‘Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry’ (GCMS), High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), and Co-Oxymeter.
       
  • Biology Laboratory
    • DNA, diatom and serology analysis are among the test analysis offered. This laboratory must be designed based on the standard biological laboratory with a DNA database storage.
    • An isolation room is of utmost priority in DNA analysis to avoid contamination.
    • For cases involving drowning, diatom analysis can assist Forensic Pathologist to give a cause of death.
       
  • Histopathology Laboratory
    • In this laboratory, formalin is a major reagent used to fix specimens received from post-mortem examination. Therefore, laboratory design should take into consideration of the risk by providing good ventilation.
    • Some of the equipment used in the laboratory are:
        • Processing machine
        • Embedding machine
        • Microtome
        • Water / floating bath
        • Automated staining machine
        • Grossing table
        • Fume hood
    • An isolated room for grossing and processing is needed to minimise the exposure to formalin.
    • Having said that, the used of personal protective equipment (PPE) is very important during handling of specimens. To overcome this problem, user can used modern equipment like enclosed processing machine.
       
  • Trace Evidence Laboratory
    • Trace evidence can be defined as small or minute evidence like a glass fragments, paint flakes and bullet fragments.
    • Unlike biological laboratory, this section is heavily relies to microscope. There several type of microscope:
      • Scanning electron microscope
      • FTIR microscope
      • Comparison microscope
         
  • Ballistics and Explosives Laboratory
    • The examination of firearm, bullet projectiles, and bullet casing are the main analysis in this section, such as bullet comparison.
       
  • Question Document and Handwriting Document Section
    • In this section, question document and handwriting will analyse to determine its authenticity. Therefore, the laboratory design is simplified compared to chemical and biological laboratories.
       
  • Latent Fingerprint Laboratory
    • Latent finger print examinations involved of both chemical and biological analysis. Thus the design of laboratory should meet the standard requirements with the fingerprint database facility.
       
  • Entomology Laboratory
    • This laboratory analyse insects and other arthropods to provide the range of the time since death. Generally, to determine time since death, two types of maggot samples (live and dead maggots) will collected from scene and post-mortem examinations.
    • A live maggot will be monitored until it becomes adult to understand the life cycle whereas dead maggots sample to determine the type of insect found on the body.
    • Therefore, a wide area is required to breed the maggots.  

Forensics Laboratory Accreditation

Generally, all laboratories need to meet basic requirements in MS:ISO 15189 and MS:ISO 17025 under ‘Skim Akreditasi Makmal Malaysia (SAMM). For results to be accepted in the court, forensics laboratory needs to be accredited by a recognised professional body such as ASCLD – LAB® (” American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors / Laboratory Accreditation Board “). To accreditate a histopathology laboratory, The Royal Collage of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) is the recognised professional body.

Conclusion

In conclusion, in constructing an ideal laboratory, a laboratory should be equipped with all different sections discussed above where every sections will have a different design based on respective specific requirements. Finally, a forensics laboratory needs to be accredited by international professional body to ensure no dispute in analysis results to help in investigation and to uphold justice.

References

  1. Forensics Laboratories: Handbook for Facility Planning, Design, Construction, and Moving – U.S. Department of Justice
  2. Staff Skill Requirements And Equipment Recommendation For Forensics Science Laboratories – Laboratory And Scientific Section United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime Vienna
  3. www.ascld-lab.org/
  4. www.jsm.gov.my/skim-akreditasi-makmal-malaysia-samm
  5. www.kimia.gov.my/
  6. www.rcpa.edu.au

 

Last Reviewed : 8 September 2015
Writer : Mohd Faizul bin Abd Wahab
Accreditor : Khoo Lay See