The image far too many people have when discussing laboratories is popular culture’s “lair of the mad scientist.” In the real world, laboratory facilities are home to all manner of productive enterprise, and the tools they employ are not limited to 1960s era chemistry set accessories. There are ways to design a laboratory to maximize safety and productivity simultaneously. Here are some things to consider.
Almost all facilities managers will agree that capacity and attendance are the first two considerations when ordering equipment from a laboratory supplies company and designing a laboratory space. How many people can fit in the room matters to the fire marshal, but how many people can effectively use the facility matters to the lab designer. If the room is too crowded, safety becomes an issue because crowds lead to collisions. When safety is an issue, the users can’t make good use of the lab in the first place.
Labs should be designed with an effective or practical capacity in mind. That will reduce the probability of accidents due to crowding.
Crowded rooms are fire hazards. This is true even if the room is only crowded with lab furniture. Sprinkler systems and fire retardant delivery mechanisms can’t work to their full potential if there are pieces of furniture and fixtures blocking access to the fire.
In most circumstances, labs should be designed with two major principles in mind:
There should be plenty of open space, so if there is a fire, the early detection and response systems can be utilized to their full effect. Open space should also be oriented to take advantage of the environmental systems.
Airflow is vital in a room that might contain dangerous chemicals. Also, utility bills will be much lower if the air conditioning and heating systems don’t have to work so hard to affect the inside air.
The primary uses of the lab will dictate decisions like how much and what kind of storage should be provided. Chemicals, for example, require different storage mechanisms than microscopes.
A good lab design will make accommodations for both storage capacity and easy access. This prevents situations where difficult navigation creates hazards like chemical spills or electrical system interruptions. As the lab becomes more efficient, it also becomes safer, since an efficient lab is one that is less likely to cause accidents.
Making safety a priority very often leads to decisions that create efficiencies and opportunities. If a lab design is optimized for safety, then it becomes much easier for the users to find ways to make better use of it. Good equipment, adequate storage, and a properly ventilated and climate-controlled interior will also make work easier and more productive.