Helping lab professionals GoMolecular.

Lab Construction Considerations


In this article:

  • Following safety and code requirements
  • Maintaining proper air flow and air quality
  • Addressing ergonomic issues

Building a molecular lab is a huge task with many options to consider and decisions to make. When it comes to lab construction, those decisions should be guided by safety, functionality and efficiency. With these valuable tips you can carefully consider the possibilities, plan ahead, and make the right decisions for your molecular lab.

Safety and Code Requirements

When designing a molecular lab, you must ensure that all code requirements are met. It’s a good idea to involve a licensed engineer and architect, as well as an environmental health and safety officer in the lab design process. Professionals with specific experience in the lab industry will help make sure you are adhering to construction and life safety codes. There are also various resources you can consult to learn about current codes and regulations (see Recommended Resources).

Position devices such as fume hoods and biosafety cabinets away from doors and out of the main traffic flow to ensure proper functioning. Fume hoods protect lab workers from solvent fumes; and biosafety cabinets protect both products and lab workers. "Placement in relationship to each other should be tested," said Ellen Sisle, AIA, LEED AP, principal, director of laboratory planning, KlingStubbins, Philadelphia. "If they are too close, effectiveness could be impacted negatively in one, the other, or both."

Set up an eyewash and safety shower so they are reachable within 10 seconds without having to pass through more than one door (which should swing out). An ideal spot for an eyewash station is at the sink closest to the laboratory exit. Another option is to position the eyewash station as a freestanding unit with the emergency flood shower near an exit, normally with a wall-hung lavatory that is a dedicated hands-free handwash sink. Keep in mind that the eyewash station and flood shower must meet Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) criteria for water temperature, hands-free operation, and the ability to be turned on with only one movement.

Keep goggles easily accessible, such as near the laboratory's entrance in an alcove or designated cabinet in the corridor. Clean lab coats should be kept outside of the lab to keep them sanitary. In-use lab coats should remain inside the lab. Position hooks near exit doors, adjacent to hand-washing sinks, for hanging coats.

Some laboratories incorporate overhead service carriers that can house water, gases, lighting, and exhaust. "Although expensive, they are becoming more commonplace due to their functional benefits, as well as the reduction in field construction costs tied to conventional installations,” said Sisle.

Air Flow, Air Pressure, Temperature and Humidity

A molecular lab should have 100 percent outside exhaust of air with good air changes. "I generally recommend about 10 air changes for a molecular laboratory," said Karen K. Mortland, RA, MT(ASCP), president of Mortland Planning & Design Inc., Chicora, Pa., and chair of the Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute's Subcommittee for Guidelines for Laboratory Design.

Furthermore, a molecular lab must also have proper air pressure to help control fumes and contaminants. The lab itself should have negative pressure, while a Mastermix preparation room should have positive pressure. Positive pressure means the amount of supply air is greater than the exhaust, which minimizes contamination.

If there isn't enough space for both a clean and a dirty room, engineers might be able to design a pressurization scheme that creates an air flow pattern to adequately address clean to dirty flow requirements. At minimum, install a laminar flow hood to perform clean preparations.

Temperature control and relative humidity (RH) are also important for both workers' comfort and laboratory instrumentation performance. Discuss special equipment requirements with design engineers. It is essential to have HVAC control systems that can perform within a range tight enough to match equipment requirements. In addition, choose air handling unit-cooling coils that can maintain the lab environment below maximum RH comfort limits. Humidification systems may be required to keep the lab RH above the level where static charge could occur, adversely affecting laboratory equipment, said Martin Wendel, PE, engineering design principal, KlingStubbins.

Addressing Ergonomic Issues

Optimize efficiency, and minimize physical effort and discomfort by choosing easy-to-use lab and office equipment and workstation items. Some ergonomic issues in the molecular lab include problems related to standing for long periods of time, noise at unhealthy levels due to equipment, and repetitive motion when using certain pieces of equipment.

Use recycled rubber flooring that meets biosafety and laboratory requirements to minimize issues related to standing and noise. Rubber flooring is a good idea because it is antimicrobial, antifungal and absorbs some vibration. Noise absorbent ceiling tiles are another great, sustainable choice for noise reduction.

When possible, locate noisy equipment such as -80°F freezers and centrifuges in equipment corridors or segregated equipment rooms outside of the lab. Design ductwork to minimize noise by keeping duct velocities low and adding sound treatments, such as sound attenuators to the ductwork distribution system.

The incorporation of ergonomic keyboard trays, chairs and adjustable monitor arms will add to workers' comfort and minimize the potential for workers to experience pain or strain. For example, a pull-out ergonomic keyboard tray mounted below the bench top will minimize workers' hand and wrist strain. By attaching countertops to adjustable cores, they can be added or removed as needed, and heights can be easily modified. Bench tops with adjustable heights can accommodate workers of different sizes, while adjustable stools encourage healthy posture. Adjustable biosafety cabinets and fume hoods are another option.

For repetitive tasks such as pipetting, ergonomically designed lab stools and adjustable height benches will help to prevent motion injuries.

A well-designed lighting scheme should incorporate indirect lighting for a high-quality, evenly diffused light that minimizes energy use and glare. Individually controlled task lights can remain off except when needed. More sophisticated lighting control systems that adjust to the level of natural daylight, as well as occupancy offer even more energy savings.