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RESOURCE PAGE

Security and Safety in Laboratories

by Daniel Watch, Deepa Tolat, and Alex Clinton
Perkins + Will

Last updated: 09-20-2012

Introduction

Due to the variety of toxic chemicals and hazardous materials used in a laboratory, research facility designers are challenged to create quality, productive environments while ensuring the protection and safety of scientists and other laboratory personnel. Protecting human health and life is paramount, yet protecting a facility from unauthorized access is also of critical importance. This Resource Page addresses all these related concerns about security and safety in research facilities.

Rock Crushing and Grinding Lab at Boston University-Boston, MA. The hazard and safety features shown in this diagram are: fire extinguisher, circuit breakers, rock saw, trap door to sub basement, floor drain, benchtop drill press, first-aid box, sink, doorway, air decompressor, heat lamps, water table, electric disconnect, battery charger, jaw crusher, disk mill, and window.

Hazards and safety features of the Rock Crushing and Grinding Lab at Boston University—Boston, MA. View enlarged plan

Description

Code-Related Issues

Minimum requirements to ensure occupant safety are most often mandated primarily by codes. Institutions and facility owners may often have their own safety guidelines that further enhance the code requirements. Different codes carry different specific terms, classifications, and requirements; several key building and life-safety code issues are common to most. The following must be considered early in a facility design and then balanced throughout the design process:

  • What is the building use and occupancy classification?
  • What is the building construction type?
  • What is the height of the building?
  • What hazardous chemicals or materials will be used and/or stored?
  • What quantity of each chemical will be stored in the building, and where will they be stored? How will chemicals and other hazardous wastes be removed from the laboratory?
  • Are there any additional specific safety requirements for any specialized lab types in the facility?

Building occupancy classification is driven by the primary function of the building. Most research laboratory facilities and spaces will typically fall within the basic Business Group B occupancy classification, with perhaps a few accessory areas of Assembly Group A or Storage Group S occupancy classifications. In situations where the research being carried out is atypically hazardous or hazardous material quantities exceed those allowed by other provisions of code, spaces may be required to be classified as a High-Hazard Group H occupancy. Generally, the H occupancy classification however carries with it significantly more strict egress and fire-resistance requirements which can equate to a much more costly space to build.

Building construction is typically classified as belonging to one of four types. Types I and II require noncombustible materials; Type III may include some combustible materials in the interior of the building; and Type IV relates to buildings of heavy timber and wood construction; Type V may be constructed by any material permitted by code. Generally, Type IV construction is the least expensive to build, Type I the most expensive. Each building construction type carries with it specific fire-resistance requirements that will impact the building design in a variety of ways. The following table summarizes the fire-resistance requirements for the different construction types.

Table 1: Fire Resistance Ratings for Building Elements (abbreviated version of Table 601, IBC 2009*)

Building ElementType IType IIType IIIType IVType V
ABABABHTAB
Primary Structural Frame321010HT10
Bearing Walls,         
Exterior321022210
Interior3210101/HT10
Nonbearing Walls, ExteriorSee Table 602 for Fire-Resistance Requirements Based on Occupancy, Construction Type, and Fire Separation Distance
Nonbearing Walls, Interior000000See Section 602.4.600
Floor Construction221010HT10
Roof Construction1-½11010HT10
Note: This table is included only to illustrate certain design issues and has been abbreviated. Other sections of the Code will have to be considered as well, and there are possible exceptions, exemptions, or variations permitted depending upon other factors.

Building height can have a significant impact on the safety considerations of a building. Generally, the higher the floor level, the less chemical quantity that can be accommodated on that floor per code. Also, the taller the building, the more restrictive the construction type becomes. Additionally, high-rise buildings have other special code requirements to address issues such as smoke movement, egress, and fire department access. Another important consideration in design of a laboratory building are the types and amounts of chemicals and other hazardous materials anticipated to be used and/or stored in the facility. Each floor of a building is typically divided into control areas, with each control area able to house a defined percentage of the maximum allowable quantities of hazardous materials permitted by code.

Table 2: Maximum Allowable Quantity Per Control Area of Hazardous Materials Posing a Physical Hazard (abbreviated version of Table 307.1(1), IBC 2009*)

MaterialClassGroup When the Maximum Allowable Quantity Is ExceededStorageUse, Closed SystemsUse, Open Systems
Solid Pounds (Cubic Feet)Liquid Gallons (Pounds)Gas (Cubic Feet at NTP)Solid Pounds (Cubic Feet)Liquid Gallons (Pounds)Gas (Cubic Feet at NTP)Solid Pounds (Cubic Feet)Liquid Gallons (Pounds)
Combustible LiquidII
IIA
IIIB
H-2 or H-3
H-2 or H-3
N/A
N/A120
330
13200
N/AN/A120
330
13200
N/AN/A30
80
3300
Cryogenics, FlammableN/AH-2N/A45N/AN/A45N/AN/A19
Cryogenics, InertN/AN/AN/AN/ANLN/AN/ANLN/AN/A
Cryogenics, OxidizingN/AH-3N/A45N/AN/A45N/AN/A10
Flammable GasGaseous
Liquified
H-2N/AN/A
(150)
1000
N/A
N/AN/A
(150)
1000
N/A
N/AN/A
Flammable Liquid1A
1B & 1C
H-2 or H-3N/A30
120
N/AN/A30
120
N/AN/A10
30
Flammable SolidN/AH-3125N/AN/A125N/AN/A25N/A
Organic PeroxideUD
I
II
III
IV
V
H-1
H-2
H-3
H-3
N/A
N/A
1
5
50
125
NL
NL
(1)
(5)
(50)
(125)
NL
NL
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0.25
1
50
125
NL
NL
(0.25)
(1)
(50)
(125)
NL
NL
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0.25
1
10
25
NL
NL
(0.25)
(1)
(10)
(25)
NL
NL
Oxidizer4
3
2
1
H-1
H-2 or H-3
H-3
N/A
1
10
250
4000
(1)
(10)
(250)
(4000)
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0.25
2
250
4000
(0.25)
(2)
(250)
(4000)
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0.25
2
50
1000
(0.25)
(2)
(50)
(1000)
Oxidizing GasGaseous
Liquified
H-3N/A
N/A
N/A
(150)
1500
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
(150)
1500
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Unstable (Reactive)4
3
2
1
H-1
H-1 or H-2
H-3
N/A
1
5
50
NL
(1)
(5)
(50)
NL
10
50
250
NL
0.25
1
50
NL
(0.25)
(1)
(50)
NL
2
10
250
NL
0.25
1
10
NL
(0.25)
(1)
(10)
NL
Water Reactive3
2
1
H-2
H-3
N/A
5
50
NL
(5)
(50)
NL
N/A
N/A
N/A
5
50
NL
(5)
(50)
NL
N/A
N/A
N/A
1
10
NL
(1)
(10)
NL
Note: This table is included only to illustrate certain design issues and has been abbreviated. Other sections of the Code will have to be considered as well, and there are possible exceptions, exemptions, or variations permitted depending upon other factors.

Table 3: Maximum Allowable Quantity Per Control Area of Hazardous Materials Posing a Health Hazard (abbreviated version of Table 307.1(2), IBC 2009*)

MaterialStorageUse, Closed SystemsUse, Open Systems
Solid Pounds (Cubic Feet)Liquid Gallons (Pounds)Gas (Cubic Feet at NTP)Solid Pounds (Cubic Feet)Liquid Gallons (Pounds)Gas (Cubic Feet at NTP)Solid Pounds (Cubic Feet)Liquid Gallons (Pounds)
Corrosive5000500Gaseous 810
Liquefied (150)
5000500Gaseous 810
Liquefied (150)
1000100
Highly Toxic10(10)Gaseous 20
Liquefied (4)
10(10)Gaseous 20
Liquefied (4)
3(3)
Toxic500(500)Gaseous 810
Liquefied (150)
500(500)Gaseous 810
Liquefied (150)
125(125)
Note: This table is included only to illustrate certain design issues and has been abbreviated. Other sections of the Code will have to be considered as well, and there are possibly exceptions, exemptions, or variations permitted depending upon other factors.

Control areas must be segregated from the rest of the building and each other by fire-resistive construction. Each floor level has a maximum number of control areas allowed. Additionally, each control area on a given floor has a maximum percentage of the allowable material quantity which is allowed to be housed within. Generally, these factors all become increasingly restrictive as the floor level increases to help ensure occupant safety and egress to the floor level at grade. These factors should be carefully considered when blocking and stacking the building in the early design phases to ensure that material quantities can be accommodated on the higher levels of a building.

Table 4: Design and Number of Control Areas (abbreviated version of Table 414.2.2, IBC 2009)

Floor LevelPercentage of the Maximum Allowable Quantity Per Control AreaNumber of Control Areas Per FloorFire-Resistance Rating For Fire Barrier In Hours
Above Grade PlaneHigher Than 9
7–9
6
5
4
3
2
1
5
5
12.5
12.5
12.5
50
75
100
1
2
2
2
2
2
3
4
2
2
2
2
2
1
1
1
Below Grade Plan1
2
Lower Than 2
75
50
Not Allowed
3
2
Not Allowed
1
1
Not Allowed
Note: This table is included only to illustrate certain design issues and has been abbreviated. Other sections of the Code will have to be considered as well, and there are possible exceptions, exemptions, or variations permitted depending upon other factors.

If anticipated chemical quantities are unknown for a new facility, the design team should evaluate very carefully the best means to balance flexibility for future hazardous material needs with other design factors associated with constructing control areas. In most cases, it is advisable for an Owner to consider minimizing the amount of chemicals in a building and to order what is needed on a daily or weekly basis from a local vendor for just-in-time delivery.

In addition to the IBC sections addressing hazardous materials for buildings in general, NFPA 45 addresses the specific issue of chemicals and fire hazard for laboratories. The amount and type of chemicals determine the appropriate laboratory fire hazard classification and many other special requirements. The laboratory class impacts a variety of factors including the maximum allowable area for a given laboratory unit, means of egress from the laboratory, and fire-resistive separation from the rest of the building. It is recommended that life safety professionals be involved early in reviewing a facility design to make sure it meets life safety and code requirements. The design team can design an appropriate building, but the campus health and safety staff must be responsible for overseeing the researchers to ensure that the code requirements are ultimately met. It is also recommended that local code officials and authorities having jurisdiction be involved in the review of the design as it pertains to life-safety issues. See also WBDG Secure/Safe—Ensure Occupant Safety Health and Secure/Safe—Plan for Fire Protection.

Other typical code issues will have to be studied and resolved. These include exit capacity, travel distance, number and size of exit stairs, door and wall fire-ratings, exit signage, exit lighting, emergency power, and restroom requirements. See also WBDG Accessible Branch and Secure/Safe Branch.

Storage of Combustible and Flammable Liquids

Flammable storage and chemical storage cabinets below a fume hood

Flammable Storage and Chemical Storage Cabinets Below a Fume Hood

The following information is based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 30, which concerns flammable and combustible liquids. Combustible liquids have a flash point at or above 100°F (37.8°C) and are classified as follows:

  • Class II: Liquids with a flash point at or above 100°F (37.8°C) and below 140°F (60°C)
  • Class III A: Liquids with a flash point at or above 140°F (60°C) and below 200°F (93°C)
  • Class III B: Liquids with a flash point at or above 200°F (93°C)

Flammable liquids have a flash point below 100°F (37.8°C) and a vapor pressure not greater than 40 lbs per sq in. (absolute) (2,068 mm Hg) at 100°F (37.8°C). Flammable liquids are classified as follows:

  • Class I A: Liquids with flash point below 73°F (22.8°C) and a boiling point below 100°F (37.8°C).
  • Class I B: Liquids with flash point below 73°F (22.8°C) and a boiling point at or above 100°F (37.8°C).
  • Class I C: Liquids with flash points at or above 73°F (22.8°C) and below 100°F (37.8°C).

No more than 120 gallons (454 l) of Class I, Class II, and Class III liquid may be stored in a storage cabinet. Of this total, no more than 60 gallons (227 l) may be of Class I and Class II liquids, and no more than three such cabinets may be located in a single fire area, except in an industrial occupancy, where additional cabinets may be located in the same fire area if the additional cabinets (not more than a group of three) are separated from other cabinets or group of cabinets by at least 100 ft. (30 m).

Fire Extinguishing System

Most lab buildings are designed with a wet-pipe automatic fire sprinkler system for code and insurance reasons. In many cases it may be less costly to provide a water sprinkler system than not to do so. Other fire suppression systems may be necessary, depending on several factors. In some facilities with sensitive equipment or research programs alternative suppression systems such as pre-action sprinkler systems or clean-agent suppression systems may be required.

Portable fire extinguishers should be provided at minimum as required by code. Building codes and NFPA 10 address portable fire extinguisher requirements. Additional fire extinguisher requirements apply to special hazard areas and also may be desirable based on institutional policy or for certain lab types. Typically fire extinguishers along with other lab safety equipment should be placed in an intuitive location either centrally located or near the entrance/exit to the laboratory.

See also WBDG Secure/Safe—Plan for Fire Protection.

Seismic Design

Seismic design is mandated in some areas of the country. Seismic design considerations for laboratory facilities include the following:

  • Lips shall be provided on all sides of reagent shelving
  • Heavier gauge metal blocking in walls for wall cabinet attachments
  • Earthquake catches for all doors and drawers
  • Bolted cylinder straps
  • Loose tabletop equipment guy-wired to the tabletops
  • Free-standing scientific equipment should be secured to the wall or floor
  • All mechanical, electrical, and plumbing equipment double-harnessed to a main structure.

Accessibility

The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968 requires access to facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and services conducted or assisted by the Federal government. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability within the private sector. As such, any new lab project must consider ABA/Section 504/ADA compliance, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design published by the Department of Justice, and any state or local accessibility guidelines that may apply. Typically a non-public research lab is considered an "employee-use" space and as such is only required to provide accessible approach, entry, and exit out of the space. Regardless, for many institutions there is the potential for disabled researchers to use the laboratory and as such most consider designing their facilities with at least one lab or work zone per lab that will fully meet accessibility requirements. This forethought helps prevent the need for renovation at a later date and has minimal functional impact on the non-disabled workers in the laboratory. Additionally, renovation projects must be carefully considered as renovation of a portion of a building's primary use space typically requires additional elements such as restrooms, circulation, and even parking be updated to meet the most current accessibility standards.

Photo of an ADA-compliant fume hood

ADA-compliant fume hood

The following are some primary considerations for accessible design in laboratories:

  • Provide some adaptable furniture systems and adjustable-height work surfaces to accommodate people in wheelchairs.
  • Provide one ADA fume hood in each lab. An ADA hood is designed with a sash that opens vertically and horizontally.
  • Provide one ADA height (34 in.) sink for each lab. (The U.S. Access Board of the Justice Department has stated that a mobile, self-contained ADA sink on each floor is not acceptable as a means to provide access to sinks for students or for any other public use.)
  • Provide one ADA workstation/write-up area in each lab.
  • Choose emergency shower handles that can be pushed up to stop the flow. Install pullout shelves in base cabinets.
  • Install a lightweight fire extinguisher within reach of a handicapped workstation.

ADA recommended dimensions and clearances are as follows:

Work surface height34 in. max.
Knee clearance32 in. max.
Work surface depth24 in.
Maximum sink depth6.5 in.
Shoulder-to-hand reach35-45 in.
Elbow-to-hand reach22-26 in.
Side reach24 in.
Reach height46 in.
Control height48 in. max.-15 in. min.
Door clearance32 in. (requires 36 in. door)
Aisle width48 in. min.
Clearance required to turn wheelchair60 in.
Clearance from floor to underside of work surface27 in.
Emergency shower handle height54 in. high max.

Controls for technology devices in classrooms cannot be higher than 54 in. above the floor and must accommodate a parallel approach by a person in a wheelchair. Private industry may construct labs that can be modified to be accessible for persons in wheelchairs.

See also WBDG Accessible Branch.

General Safety Principles for Laboratories

Biohazard warning sign outside of a laboratory

Biohazard Warning Sign Outside of a Laboratory

For safety and ease of maintenance, it usually makes sense to locate a safety shower, fire extinguisher, and shutoff valves at the entry alcove of each lab. Interior glazing permits easy surveillance of the laboratory. Warning signs with the appropriate symbols should be posted at laboratory entrances. There should be two means of egress from each main lab (typically labs measuring 1000 sq. ft. or more). Doors should swing out of main labs for safe egress in case of emergency.

In most cases, labs should be organized with the highest hazards (e.g., fume hoods) farthest from the entry door and the least hazardous elements (e.g., write-up stations) closest to the door. Write-up desks and benches should be accessible without having to cross in front of fume hoods. All lab users should be trained in emergency procedures.

Diagram of open lab design progressing from high hazard with hood alcovers, to medium hazard with the benches, to low hazard with the write-up areas.

Open lab design with the most hazardous materials located farthest from the entry door

Appropriate casework should be provided that is chemical-resistant and will structurally support necessary loads. Islands are preferable to peninsulas, since islands allow people to walk around benches. A 1 in. high lip along shelving located above island benches and at walls should be provided to prevent containers from falling off the back of the shelf.

Centrally-located safety alcove in a lab corridor

Centrally-Located Safety Alcove in a Lab Corridor

All mechanical systems should be electronically monitored, and all safety equipment should be tested on a regular basis. See also WBDG Project Planning and Development—Building Commissioning. Fume hoods should be equipped with airflow alarms. Most labs are required to be under negative air pressure relative to the corridor to help prevent potential escape of contaminants or fumes. Most laboratory types require single-pass ventilation without recirculation of air to other spaces.

Floor penetrations should be avoided, if possible, to prevent chemicals released during a spill or flood from traveling to the floor below. Wet vacuuming should be used instead of floor drains to contain chemical spills. (This can also help in identifying what has been spilled on an individual.) Marine edges at sinks can help prevent spills or accumulation of water on the floor nearby.

Designers should consider placing an emergency center in a central location on each floor, to provide easy access for everyone. An emergency center consolidates things such as reagent neutralizers, spill kits, first aid, and fire control equipment in one common area. The design of the center should be coordinated with the owner to provide proper storage of all items required by institutional safety protocols.

Laboratory Safety Protocol and Personal Protective Equipment

Safe work practices within a laboratory is typically dictated by an institution's safety protocols. These protocols may be written somewhat generally to apply to multiple laboratories within a building or on a campus. Typical safety protocols could include requirements like: Personal items and clothing should be kept in lockers outside the lab area; food and drinks are prohibited in labs.

Researchers wearing prescribed PPE

Researchers Wearing Prescribed PPE

Each specific laboratory then typically includes its own specific protocols written to address the type of research being conducted within that space and the hazards identified. Most laboratories require some type of personal protective equipment (PPE) be worn in the laboratory setting as a part of these protocols. PPE requirements are typically dictated by institutional environmental health and safety officials and may be as simple as a typical lab coat and a pair of safety glasses in a biological or chemistry lab or a more significant PPE requirement such as a full tyvek suit, boots, and powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) as may be required in many higher level biological containment labs. PPE requirements should be carefully understood when designing any lab and proper accommodations should be provided at the entry of the laboratory to address PPE storage needs.

Safety Showers and Eyewashes

According to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, safety showers should never be farther than 100 ft. away from any researcher, along a clear and unobstructed path. This equates to about 55 ft. at a normal walking pace. Safety showers have historically been placed in the corridor, highly visible from the lab exits. The 2009 revision to the ANSI standard now considers a door to be an obstruction, which results in the potential interpretation that every laboratory space have its own safety shower. This requirement can be cost prohibitive and deemed by some as overkill. Safety shower placement in new facilities should be carefully coordinated with institutional environmental health and safety officials to ensure that locations meet the needs of the institution and facility. All safety showers should meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) criteria described above and should include an eyewash. Putting a floor drain under the shower is not recommended. A floor drain may create contamination problems in the drain piping or leak down to the floor below. It is better to allow the chemicals at the shower to be mopped up in order to identify what an individual may have been exposed to.

A combination eyewash/drench hose at a lab sink

A Combination Eyewash/Drench Hose at a Lab Sink

Safety showers should provide low-velocity water at 70° to 90° F. Manual close valves are recommended for all safety showers. A safety shower should be designed with an automatic cutoff, but should deliver at least 50 gallons before the automatic cutoff is activated. Safety showers should not be located near any sources of electricity, especially electric panel boxes.

In each lab, there should be an eyewash provided at least 10 seconds from any researcher. Eyewash units should supply a multi-stream cross flow of potable water at 65° to 75°F. Contaminated eyes should be flushed for 15 minutes. Eyewashes should flow at a rate of 3 to 7 gallons of water per minute.

Chemical and Biological Containment Equipment

In most laboratories fume hoods play a pivotal role in conducting research by allowing work with volatile chemicals that emit harmful fumes. A biological safety cabinet (BSC) fills a similar role in biological labs to allow work with harmful disease agents or infected tissues without risk of infection. A typical BSC has another important function which is to protect samples from potential contamination when manipulated. BSCs and fume hoods come in a variety of sizes and configurations to allow for maximum ease of use while also providing the necessary personnel protection. In all cases, for a BSC or fume hood to work properly, the sash must be kept at the proper working height. Proper sash height maintains safe airflow patterns keeping air from escaping the hood in the direction of the user.

A biological safety cabinet with adjustable standFume hoods in a chemistry lab

Left: A Biological Safety Cabinet with Adjustable Stand and Right:Fume Hoods in a Chemistry Lab

An important issue with these pieces of equipment is the height of the fume hood for people who are less than 5 ft. 9 in. tall. The typical fume hood test by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is based on a 5 ft. 9 in. male. When the person is shorter and the sash is lower, then it is more difficult for the hood to operate properly because less air will go through the sash. If the fume hood is left higher to allow for more airflow through the hood, then a person shorter than 5 ft. 9 in. may be at risk, because the person's mouth and nose may be closer to the chemicals being used in the hood. Fume hoods and BSCs that are height adjustable should be considered for labs utilizing this equipment.

In facilities that perform research utilizing animal models, caging equipment typically prevents the animals from harming each other or harming a caretaker/researcher. In cases of infectious disease research, ventilated caging systems protect workers from potential airborne infection. These ventilated caging systems may also increase worker comfort and prevent development of allergies or allergic reaction by exhausting heat, ammonia odors, and dander through the building exhaust system.

Rodent caging systems in a vivarium

Rodent Caging Systems in a Vivarium

Chemical Storage

A hazardous chemical is defined as a chemical for which there is statistically significant evidence that exposure may produce acute or chronic health effects. Storage options include the following:

  1. Supplier warehousing. Vendors can hold the chemicals for the lab, supplying them on an as-needed or just-in-time basis.
  2. On-site external storage. An appropriate external storage facility can be any one of a range of prefabricated, self-contained, environmentally controlled hazardous storage containers. The environment must be controllable because many chemicals are sensitive to heat, humidity, and light. Placement and proper management can be just as important as container type.
  3. Internal, centralized storage. Centralized internal facilities usually consist of a designated room for chemical storage, shared by all researchers on that floor or in that building.
  4. Internal, decentralized storage. In-lab storage may be combined with centralized or external storage. Chemicals are often stored in a special, labeled cabinet in each lab. Some are 7 ft., freestanding cabinets, and others are located beneath fume hoods. All chemical storage cabinets should be exhausted.

In any lab where shelving is used to store chemicals, the shelves should be no higher than eye level. The shelving should be made of a chemically resistant material.

Storage strategies must be compliant with all NFPA and OSHA regulations. Flammables must be stored separately in an NFPA/OSHA-approved flammables cabinet, usually beneath a fume hood. Flammables cabinets should be sealed, requiring no exhaust ducting. If flammables storage cabinets are not tightly sealed, volatile fumes can accumulate. Exhausts vents are usually not recommended, because the volatile vapors can escape into the building and some ductwork may not withstand a fire.

Chemical storage rooms should be ventilated by at least 15 air changes per hour and should have dedicated exhaust systems. Chemicals should be stored in plastic or metal containers whenever possible, not in breakable glass. All chemicals should be properly labeled, and should be arranged on the shelf in chemically compatible families, not alphabetically. Chemicals should never be stored in a fume hood or on the floor.

Chemical and Hazardous Wastes

A pass-through steam autoclave in a laboratory facility

A Pass-Through Steam Autoclave in a Laboratory Facility

Pouring chemicals into a drain that flows directly into the public water system is not permitted. Chemicals must be handled locally in the lab or with dilution tanks in or near the building. Local handling is the most affordable approach: the researcher pours the chemical into a specific container that is later picked up by a waste-management staff person or by a vendor. If chemicals are allowed to be poured down the drain, then all the drains must be constructed with chemical-resistant piping, which can be very expensive. The holding tanks will take up a few hundred feet, at a minimum, at the basement level.

Solid biological waste is typically discarded into in red biohazard bags which are then autoclaved to kill any bacteria or pathogens and allow for safe disposal. Potentially contaminated liquid waste generated in biological laboratories is typically containerized until treated via chemical or heat sterilization protocols.

Security Systems

A security system for a typical lab may include one or more of the following attributes:

  • Some means of access control, often arranged in layers within a building
  • A computerized security management system (SMS)
  • Special door hardware locksets or devices that function in unison with the SMS
  • A means of visually monitoring sensitive or secure areas
Swipe reader combination keypad security system

Swipe readers can be used in combination with keypads for a higher degree of security than either technology could provide on its own.
(Courtesy of Tyco Safety Products)

An access control system is an integrated system of access control devices that secure a building and the laboratories within from unauthorized access. These systems are typically designed in a layered fashion with multiple control points starting from the exterior of the facility working inward with increasing levels of security. The further inward one progresses through the layers, typically the fewer people that have approved access. There are several options to consider for the design of an access control system. The least costly, initially, is the lock-and-key system. But there are problems: keys can easily be copied, are difficult to manage, and are costly to replace when lost or stolen.

Keypad access control systems require a personal pin as the credential to gain access to a space. These systems can be problematic to manage since pins can be easily given to others and the system abused. Access-card systems use identification cards with a magnetic strip or a contactless smart card with an embedded RFID microchip, which works as an electronic key. Cards and card-readers are programmed to allow only authorized people into particular areas. In many applications, these access control devices typically also log entry to track who has entered the laboratory and at what time.

Biometric hand scanner at the entry to a biosafety laboratory

A Biometric Hand Scanner at the Entry to a Biosafety Laboratory

Card systems can be used for a variety of administrative purposes beyond security, for instance, for student registration, cafeteria debiting, and so on. Using an access-control system with an integrated database, student and employee status can be updated immediately, without the expense and administrative time necessary to mail new cards. In many facilities with high security requirements, a combination pin/card system may be employed that requires forms of verification prior to granting access. Biometric access control devices such as thumbprint readers or iris scanners are often also used in high-security applications.

Fail-secure electronic locksets may be specified in high security situations to prevent unauthorized access to facilities if primary and backup power is lost. A fail-secure system requires power to unlock the door thus preventing circumventing of the security system by cutting power. Fail-secure locksets typically include key override to allow access by appropriate personnel in power outages. A door position switch can monitor door position for a variety of purposes and notify security personnel if it detects a door has been physically forced open.

Wall-mounted security camera in a laboratory

A wall-mounted security camera in a laboratory

Security cameras may be desirable in certain situations where high-security or high-value equipment or research occurs. Cameras may also be employed for operational monitoring and safety purposes as desired. These observation cameras can be an important safety feature in high-security labs where windows are undesirable. Many different camera types may be employed depending on the function. Security cameras typically are installed with a fixed field of view pointing directly at the item or area that is being monitored, i.e. a lab entrance or a freezer with biological samples. Observational cameras may be fixed or pan/tilt/zoom type cameras that allow an operator to move the camera view around the room and also zoom in on areas of the room as needed.

 

Application

Representative Example

Photo of laboratory technicians using a swipe reader to enter restricted area.

As part of the laboratory's comprehensive security system, entry to the storage area requires two individuals with separate pass codes.
(Courtesy of Cord Blood Registry)

Cord Blood Registry's Laboratory, Tucson, Arizona

Cord Blood Registry's laboratory, in affiliation with the University of Arizona, Tucson, has been processing and storing cord blood since 1992 and was the first family cord blood stem cell bank in the world. In order to ensure that the processing, quality-control, and quality-assurance metrics are in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and American Association of Blood Banks accreditation, the state-of-the-art laboratory incorporated such features as backup generators, computer monitoring systems, and a paging and faxing system that maintains constant contact with their technicians while monitoring the laboratory and cryogenic vaults. The storage facilities are under twenty-four-hour security and surveillance and the entire facility is alarmed and monitored. Also, the laboratory is located in Tucson, Arizona, a location that historically has not been subject to extreme weather conditions or major environmental disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

Relevant Codes and Standards

The following agencies and organizations have developed codes and standards affecting the design of research laboratories. Note that the codes and standards are minimum requirements. Architects, engineers, and consultants should consider exceeding the applicable requirements whenever possible.

Major Resources

WBDG

Building / Space Types

Office Building, Research Facilities, Animal Research Facility, Research Laboratory, Academic Laboratory, Government Laboratory, Private Sector Laboratory, Laboratory: Dry, Laboratory: Wet

Design Objectives

Accessible, Aesthetics, Cost-Effective, Functional / Operational, Productive, Secure / Safe, Sustainable

Products and Systems

Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers

Project Management

Building Commissioning

Tools:

LEED® Version 2.1 Credit / WBDG Resource Page Matrix, LEED®-DoD Antiterrorism Standards Tool

Publications

Others

  • Laboratories for the 21st Century (Labs21)—Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, Labs21 is a voluntary program dedicated to improving the environmental performance of U.S. laboratories.