A laboratory is the heart of any research operation where the most important work happens. It is, therefore, imperative that we implement the best laboratory design practices to enhance the laboratory workflow. Laboratory working space design involves the decision-makers and stakeholders in the company, such as health and safety officers, maintenance personnel, the design team, and end-users.
All personnel come and work together to ensure that lab fittings, furniture, and workspaces are optimal for the workflow and simplify the process. So, before we get into how to design the ideal laboratory working space, let us understand why it’s crucial.
WHY IS LABORATORY DESIGN IMPORTANT?
Often, when designing a laboratory working space, things like furniture design and ergonomics get considered. But another essential consideration to account for is the amount of space between the equipment, especially those of varying functions. When there is enough space in the lab, we can also improve the workflow. A slight mistake in the laboratory design could affect many functions in the workflow, which is not desirable.
Laboratory personnel need to have furniture which takes ergonomics into account because this helps them prevent injury, which could eventually reduce their working capacity. Ergonomics issues could reduce the overall output of the laboratory. Besides ergonomics, optimum design practices also ensure the laboratory implements risk control measures as required. For example, we require specifically designed storage cabinets for chemicals. Recommended practice is to place the storage cabinets away from working spaces to prevent any hazards.
Some critical factors to consider in the laboratory design are ergonomics, ease of maintenance, placement of equipment with special requirements, and accessibility of said equipment.
LABORATORY DESIGN ASPECTS
- Adjustable workbenches – Workbenches are a vital aspect of any laboratory, as they provide the user with a designated space and furniture to conduct their experiments on. Despite its utility, an essential part always forgotten is the need for height change. Even when the workbench might seem at the optimum height, it might not be a great fit in terms of ergonomics. Also, the lab personnel’s sizes and postures should be considered. Ideally, workbenches should be adjustable with electric or crank mechanisms and must have a ‘C’ or ‘T’ leg design. It should have enough space for knee placement (at least 19 inches deep), and the length must be 72 inches at least. Overall, the workbench must accommodate 750 pounds of weight on it. If the bench is only for writing, they should be around the laboratory corners where ventilation is improved, and uninterrupted workflow is maintained.
- Laboratory floor space – It is essential to have enough space to work in the laboratory, and that’s a given. Despite that, it is quite an overlooked laboratory design consideration leading to a haphazard functioning environment. There should be ample space for movement between stations such as wet work, computer stations, and waste disposal. We must provide ample space to store chemicals, reagents, instruments, and any other miscellaneous items. There should be enough laboratory working space besides the space occupied by equipment, furniture, and other things.
- Storage considerations – Any functioning laboratory has additional items such as reagents, chemicals, specimens, and waste. Design must account for recommended cabinets, shelves, and storage space to not interrupt the laboratory’s workflow. Many regulatory bodies require storage aspects to be considered, as misplacement of objects of reagents may lead to potential hazards.
- Placement of laboratory equipment – Placement of equipment is one of the essential parts of laboratory design primarily because it affects the personnel working in the laboratory and the availability of space for optimum workflow. These days’ laboratory equipment comes with its’ manual, and it is best to follow the recommendations. It is always best to accommodate any special functioning requirements. For example, if equipment produces too much heat, include a cooling fan near it; if equipment produces too much airflow, do not place an open workbench near it.
- Spacing between laboratory equipment & furniture – For laboratory personnel to be productive, it is important to account for the space between equipment and furniture. The ideal distance between workstations and idle benches must be 5 feet. We must not place a workstation or workbench within 2 feet of a wall to provide for switches, thermostat, telephone, and other items.
It is always best to plan the layout beforehand to ensure we account everything for in the design. When filling the working space, it’s best to cross-check the manual of the installed equipment and the given architectural guidelines. With an emergency, researchers must be able to evacuate the space within a matter of seconds. An oddly designed room could lead to dire consequences.
BENEFITS OF WORKSPACE OPTIMIZATION
It is crucial to consider the many recommendations given by regulatory bodies since they are all implemented for the safety of the laboratory personnel and improvisation of the laboratory workflow. We should also account for the user’s ergonomics, without which it hinders their productivity. Laboratory working space is a crucial consideration in the design of a laboratory, and if not considered, it results in a sub-optimal design.
Optimizing the working space can also help identify the designated areas for certain activities such as sterile environment-dependent work, writing, data analysis-related work, dedicated waste disposal area. Lab personnel will not need to worry about menial things, such as whether the workspace is accident-prone; and if they can take on collaborative work that would require a flexible workspace. By considering these things, the output of the research laboratory is only due to increase. With a process-designed based plan, the laboratory starts strong and produces desired results in a shorter time duration.
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