Understanding the importance of safety in science lab design

When designing a science lab, it is crucial to consider lab safety. If they’re not planned properly, these spaces can pose a significant risk to staff and students. Here, we take a look at some of the most important safety issues you’ll need to bear in mind when you’re planning your school science lab.

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Space

You may want to fit as many practical features as possible into your new lab, but it’s crucial to leave enough space between equipment and furniture to ensure that teachers and students are able to move around freely. This includes anyone who is using a wheelchair. Lab design experts Innova Design Solutions point out that enhancing circulation in this way helps people to carry out experiments safely.

Lines of sight

In traditional science labs, teachers are often based at the front facing row after row of benches and stools. This can make it difficult for them to keep an eye on the students during lessons. A safer alternative to this is to position the teacher on the longer wall, with students situated on multipurpose workstations in front of them. This brings students closer to their teachers and reduces the lines of sight, making it easier for teachers to supervise activities and experiments.

Means of escape

All labs must feature suitable means of escape in case of fire or other emergencies and Part B of the Building Regulations must be adhered to. A risk assessment should be conducted to see how many direct access doors are needed. For rooms situated on the ground floor, a door that leads directly to the outdoors is desirable.

Chemicals storage

There are strict rules in place governing the storage of hazardous chemicals and it’s good practice to include lockable cupboards for these substances and any other potentially dangerous resources. For precise guidance on how to store chemicals, you can refer to legislation such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres regulations and the Management of Health and Safety at Work. Bear in mind that any chemical stores must be well ventilated, either to outside air or by mechanical extraction, and floors in these areas should be made from chemical-resistant materials.

Service outlets

Service outlets such as electric ports and gas taps must be carefully chosen and positioned. For example, gas taps should be securely fixed to prevent students from twisting the pipes and causing them to rupture. They should also have clearly defined ‘off’ and ‘on’ positions. Drop lever taps can be ideal as teachers can easily tell if they are off or on, even at a distance. Placing electric and gas ports on the front faces of work units can minimise any tampering during lessons.

Slips and trips

Slips and trips can be dangerous in any environment, but they’re a particular risk in lab areas. To reduce the chances of students falling, it’s important to use non-slip flooring. For example, Polyflor vinyl flooring offers impressive slip resistance due to the clear aluminium oxide particles incorporated into the material.

Meanwhile, making sure there is plenty of storage for students’ bags and coats can minimise the hazard posed by trips.

Ventilation

Last but not least in this brief guide, it is vital to have sufficient ventilation. The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1992 require that ventilation should be provided at a minimum rate of three litres of fresh air per individual per second for the maximum number of people who can use your lab.

Depending on the nature of the experiments that will be conducted in your lab, you may also require fume cupboards. These cupboards must be a suitable size and the airflow at the opening should be at least 0.5 metres per second for vapour and one metre per second for dust. Note that extracted air has to be discharged in a safe place away from doors, windows and air inlets.

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