Lab Improvement: A Few Tips to Upgrading Your Lab

As technology evolves and tech staff expands and contracts, it’s key to have a laboratory environment that evolves as well. If you’re looking to give your lab space an upgrade, Endocrine News has a few helpful hints.

It is not uncommon to outgrow your laboratory space. A new work function may change your equipment needs, new staff additions require more space, or you have taken to stacking boxes on much-needed counter space because your current storage is non-existent. This marks the time to consider a redesign of your laboratory.

Planning a lab redesign can be a big undertaking. If you have ever remodeled a room in your home — or watched any show on HGTV — you know there are many points to consider to be sure the new space best fits your needs. When it comes to designing your new lab, never leave safety off of the list while keeping the following items in mind:

Know your “wants.” Before contacting an architect or design firm about your lab redesign, be sure of what you want from your lab. A lab design is not cookie cutter — different labs require different things. Determining the specifications of the design involves incorporating many attributes, including: how many people will use the lab (and what materials or processes will be used), how many people will work in the space and in what role, and how much space is needed (and don’t forget about how many electrical outlets you’ll need!). It is also important to consider space accommodations for workers who are shorter or taller than average or have physical or sensory challenges, whether temporary (e.g., pregnancy) or permanent.

A lab design is not cookie cutter — different labs require different things.

Think safety. Any design architect will be sure to discuss the lab safety requirements of your new space. There are many features that are critical: biosafety cabinets, fire protection and detection systems, emergency showers and eye wash stations, easy access, well-marked exits, and proper ventilation. Ventilation systems should control the temperature and keep the space comfortable. Also, when hazardous materials are being used, ventilation systems should include features such as chemical fume hoods to control possible exposure and capture contaminants in the laboratory air.

Improve layout and furniture. Designing the overall layout of your new space should consider separate areas for lab work, personal desk space, meeting space, and eating areas. Some labs use different flooring, for example, to make a visible separation between lab and non-lab space. When choosing work surface stations, choose chemical-resistant, smooth, and easily cleanable material. Also include ergonomic features such as adjustability, appropriate lighting, and equipment layout.

Add closets, drawers, and more closets. Adequate storage always ranks high on the list for any redesign, at work and at home. For lab spaces, hardwood or metal shelving for cabinets is preferred. But while simple cabinets may be fine for electronics, storing lab chemicals usually require more complex storage spaces. For instance, hazardous materials should be stored and used in lab areas away from heavy traffic flow and ventilation sources that can disrupt airflow. Including plenty of storage space in a redesign can also increase the safety of your lab. Eliminating stacks of boxes in aisles or on top of counters gives workers ample space to work and move around, which can increase efficiency and reduce accidents. You will also need space for the different types of waste collection containers needed for your lab. These may include sharps, laboratory trash, recyclable containers, medical waste, and radioactive waste.

Designing a space with some built-in flexibility can allow you to include features that lab users might not need now, but could come in handy later

Be flexible. The type of research your laboratory does may change some time in the future.  Grant funding, personnel changes, and equipment acquisition are just a few things that can dramatically change your lab five years down the road. Designing a space with some built-in flexibility can allow you to include features that lab users might not need now, but could come in handy later, such as moveable workbenches. The more flexible you and your design team make the plan, the less need for future major structural changes. Work with staff members from multiple departments at your institution to get wide buy-in on your plan — from environmental health and safety staff, researchers, and engineers — to best anticipate how your lab might change in years to come.

Fauntleroy is a Carmel, IN-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Endocrine News. She wrote about the lax regulations with sperm banks in the June issue.

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