Design Considerations For A School Science Laboratory

05-08-2015

“School science laboratories are an expensive investment and are expected to last for many years.  A poor design will impact generations of pupils, teachers and technicians.” The Association for Science Education.

Every classroom is important, but special attention should be given to the design of school science laboratories.  If safety recommendations aren’t adhered to then they can become unsafe.

In this article we will talk about the essential elements of a school lab, and also give you tips about which furniture and finishes are best for a safe, effective and clean science laboratory.

Pupil Practical Area

This is the area where students carry out practical experiments following demonstrations and instructions from the teacher.

As they spend most of their time in this area the furniture has to perfectly fit the needs of the students.  The practical area consists of several components:

  • High tables or fitted benches – A surface where equipment can be laid out and experiments carried out safely, normally consisting of fitted benching or freestanding tables. Often, the tables are grouped around service pedestals for easy access to services.  Fitted benching can be installed in many different ways, but the most common are in long rows or horseshoe shapes islands.
  • Make sure students and teachers have easy access to gas, water, electricity and drainage in order to effectively carry out their experiments.
  • Storage is often underneath the work surface for space efficiency. Science laboratories often have a mixture of shelving, drawers and tray units for optimum storage.
  • The layout must allow teachers and pupils to move easily throughout the room. Safe working distances must be considered and an eye wash unit must be located within a 10 second walking distance.
  • Stools that suit the bench height should normally be supplied in plastic or wood finish for durability and safety
  • Fume cupboards – or fume hoods – are essential for the safety of the students and teachers when conducting experiments. Toxic fumes are evacuated through the fume cupboard protecting students from the chemical toxicity.

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Pupil Theory Area

Depending on the school, and the size of the laboratory, it may be possible to have a practical space and a theory space.  In the case of separate working areas, the theory area normally consists of freestanding classroom tables and chairs or stools, and the practical areas consists of fitted storage with services.

Teaching Area

The teacher should have everything needed to carry out demonstrations in front of the students; this includes a sink, access to gas and electricity as well as all the equipment needed.  Moreover, the emergency cut-off and fire extinguisher should be near the teacher so they can react quickly to any emergency.  The optimum layout comprises of a fitted demonstration desk with services and lockable storage located by a whiteboard.

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Storage

Having the right furniture to store all of the equipment is crucial to keeping the lab clean.  Some equipment can be dangerous to students and teachers if it is not stored safely, so here are some tips about what you should do to keep your science laboratory safe and clean:

  • Bags and coats: Should be placed near the entrance door away from the practical area.  Pupils should each have enough space for their coat and bag without causing a potential trip hazard in the lab.
  • Science equipment: Many types of equipment such as Bunsen burners, mats and tripods should be stored in tray units or cupboards.  Fitted furniture is the most popular choice of storage as it is space efficient and can be customised to fit any space.
  • Chemicals: Due to their toxicity, they should always be stored in dedicated chemical storage cupboards, clearly labelled and separated from the other equipment.

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Work Surfaces

As they are used on a daily basis benches cannot last forever, but with good maintenance they usually last for more than 10 years.  A good quality work surface should be durable, standing up to experiments on a daily basis for years.  A bench surface needs to be resistant to:

  • Chemicals: The use of chemical products can damage a bench surface
  • Water: Water is often used during scientific experiments so the bench has to stand up to water and other liquids
  • Hot objects: Bunsen burners and other equipment which product heat can damage the work surface
  • Abrasion: A work surface needs to be scratch and impact resistant to withstand experiments over many years.

Here are three different desktop materials you could use:

  • SGL (Solid Grade Laminate) – Due to its excellent impact, wear and scratch resistance, this work surface is very durable and has a solid core. Its surface isn’t porous and can be easily cleaned.  Moreover, as it is chemical resistant, SGL is the perfect choice for science laboratories.  This is the most cost-effective option
  • Composite Stone – One of the key elements of this specific material is its non-porous surface and its excellent chemical resistance. Damage can often be repaired by qualified tradesmen.  Composite stone also possesses seamless joints which therefore prevent the build-up of dust and dirt in seam lines
  • Granite – This is made from natural material and as it is solid stone, it is very hard wearing and durable. It has excellent burn resistance and does not harbour bacteria.  Granite is also highly resistant to impact and can handle large amounts of weight.

However, MFC (Melamine Faced Chipboard, also known as particle board) isn’t recommended for science labs as it doesn’t have good enough chemical and impact resistance.  Therefore, be sure to choose your work surface according to your usage and budget to ensure you have the optimum furniture for your science laboratory.

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Colour Scheme

When choosing a colour scheme for your lab, be sure to take into account how chemicals will affect the surface over time,

Black or dark worktops make it difficult to clear up chemical spills and darker worktops also show scratches worse.

Lighter worktops allow students to easily see what’s on their bench when they are working with chemicals, so accidents can be avoided.  Opting for an SGL work surface is best as this won’t stain easily.

There is a wide range of colours available for cupboard doors to suit all requirements, whether you prefer a bright or classic space / environment.

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Flooring

The floor surface has to be taken into account in order to prevent injuries as spilt water or chemicals could be a potential hazard in a laboratory.  Here are a few things to consider when choosing the floor surface.

  • The floor area should be at least 90m2
  • Vinyl is resistant to most chemicals, and is the standard laboratory material as carpet is not practical and tiles can become slippery
  • Vinyl in a lab needs to pass a pendulum test of greater than 36 for slip resistance (or R10)
  • The flooring could be used to denote practical and theory areas
  • It should be laid in sheets for safety and ease of cleaning.

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Layout and Traffic Flow

Safe minimum working distances apply to science laboratories to ensure safety, this is especially important when students are working with potentially dangerous equipment.

Experts will have knowledge of safe and efficient traffic flow and can advise on the best layout for a laboratory.

For example, a physics lab might have a mixture of fitted storage and freestanding tables that can be moved to one side when conducting experiments.

Professionals can help you to create a bespoke layout – however, there are certain layouts or benching designs which have been proved to work well and are often adapted to other school layouts.

CONCLUSION

This article should assist you when thinking about all aspects of your science laboratory refurbishment, but we would always recommend getting an expert’s input.  We have a wealth of experience in laboratory design and installation and can provide colour schemes, layouts, samples and advice throughout your project.

For more information on design considerations for school science laboratories , or to find out how we can help you with your laboratory project, please contact us on 0208 641 4444 or email us at sales@pinnacle.grvytrn.co.uk

To view our science laboratory case studies, please click here.

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