Lab design has a large impact on the productivity and safety of a research environment. According to Whole Building Design Guide, “Most academic institutions annually change the layout of 5 to 10% of their labs” to maintain optimal operating conditions. A well-designed lab can decrease the probability of everyday accidents, satisfy the needs of lab personnel, and allow for versatility. As such, it’s important to spend time crafting the ideal layout to suit your lab’s specific needs. Follow these essential tips for a successful laboratory design.
Safety should be the top priority in any lab, and proper safety starts with a good lab design. Since most lab accidents are a result of human error, lab design won’t be able to eliminate risk, but it can significantly reduce it. Common lab hazards include electrical issues, fires, and chemical leaks. Due to the seriousness of these risks, it’s important that lab personnel can evacuate the facility quickly in the case of an emergency. As such, aisles should be wide enough for workers to pass by easily without bumping into each other or equipment.
In addition, labs should also include safety features such as eyewash stations, chemical fume hoods, safety showers, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, and fire blankets. When designing the layout of your lab, be sure to account for these items so that your lab can be as safe as possible. You’ll likely notice an increase in productivity as potential safety issues won’t distract your staff and allow them to focus.
Plan for storage space
Adequate storage space is essential in any lab as it results in a safer and more-productive workspace. Increasing the storage space in your laboratory could involve adding extra cabinets, a storage closet, or shelving. When working with chemicals in your laboratory, you must take specific storage measures—never store chemicals on the floors or in traffic aisles. When utilizing shelving space, the unit should have a raised lip along the outer edge to prevent items from slipping off. Further, you should always place liquid chemicals in unbreakable packaging or sealed cabinets. This way you’ll be able to contain spills if one occurs. Realizing that your lab doesn’t have enough storage after completing the design can lead to safety and productivity issues. That’s why it’s important to consider this aspect early on.
Develop a thorough equipment list
You can’t design the layout of your lab without developing a comprehensive equipment list. The quantity and type of equipment used in a lab will determine many factors in layout planning. These aspects include spatial arrangement, power and plumbing requirements, and the location of equipment to ensure optimal safety and efficiency.
Consider ease of access
Having an easily accessible lab will allow lab personnel to quickly exit the facility in the case of an accident. It also ensures that the lab can be flexible if individuals need to move equipment in, out, or around the lab. Due to changes in technology, you may find that you want to replace equipment in the future or renovate your lab. When that time comes, you don’t want to permanently trap your old equipment inside your facility. As such, you should outline pathways to exits for each piece of equipment. In addition to equipment paths, you should also consider door widths and turning clearances.
Designing the perfect lab layout is a collaborative effort. In order to coordinate all aspects of your lab, you should speak with mechanical, plumbing, and electrical engineers during the design process. These three technical disciplines are essential for building a suitable interior area for your lab personnel. If they aren’t all working together, you could end up with a visually unappealing lab with construction issues that lead to maintenance problems in the future. As such, drawings should be thoroughly back-checked by each MEP engineer throughout the process to ensure cohesion.
Evaluating your lab’s needs is one of the first steps to creating a good lab design. To determine what your lab needs, you’ll need to answer a few questions:
- How many staff members does your lab employ and what are the different roles?
- What materials will everyone need?
- What processes do we have in place?
- How much space do we need to accommodate our practices?
By determining these factors, you can tailor the lab’s design to these needs so that all its aspects enhance safety, productivity, and purpose. If not, the lab may not be the right size. This may lead to insufficient storage space, limited growth, and reduced functionality.
The surface of your lab counters will typically experience a lot of wear. As such, it’s important to choose a durable surface. As such, be sure to consider if its chemical, moisture, heat, and abrasive resistance to determine if it will work long-term. If your countertops will serve as workstations for desktop computers, then durability won’t be quite as important as ergonomic features. After you have assessed your lab’s needs, you can choose from a wide range of countertop materials. Popular worksurface materials include epoxy resin, phenolic resin, stainless steel, and high-pressure laminate.
To ensure that your lab is working at optimal efficiently, proper lighting is an important aspect to consider. Utilizing natural light is a design strength due to its energy-saving potential. There are also cases, however, when your researchers may not want or cannot have natural lighting in their research space. This instance may occur if they are working with equipment that can’t function properly in natural light such as lasers, electron microscopes, or other light-sensitive equipment. As such, you’ll want to tailor the lighting to the researchers’ specific needs when developing a laboratory design.
An important consideration in many modern labs is flexibility. Thinking long-term, a lab should be able to expand and reconfigure as needs change without calling for substantial renovations. In order to achieve this flexibility, labs should implement features such as mobile casework and partitions, as well as adaptable engineering systems,
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