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Beyond “furniture”: The Critical Role of Countertops in Lab Safety and Efficiency

Lab countertops are not just surfaces for placing equipment and conducting experiments. They also play important scientific roles in ensuring the safety, efficiency, and quality of the research conducted in a modern-day lab. So, let’s explore some of the factors that influence the choice of a lab countertop, and how they affect the performance and outcomes of the lab.

The 3M’s: Modeling, Material, Maintenance

Professional lab layout consultants typically factor the 3Ms when making decisions about the types of countertops they recommend.

  • Modeling: Design, beauty and aesthetics are a factor to consider when choosing lab countertops. These factors affect not just a sense of “pleasure” of working in the lab, but also the ergonomics, accessibility, and functionality of the lab. For example, the height and width of the countertop should be appropriate for the users and the equipment, allowing for comfortable and safe operation. The shape and layout of the countertop should also facilitate the workflow and communication among the researchers, avoiding unnecessary movements and obstructions
  • Material: One of the main factors to consider, when choosing a countertop, is the material. Different materials have different properties, such as durability, resistance, conductivity, and aesthetics. Depending on the type of research and experiments conducted in the lab, some materials may be more suitable than others. For example, a phenolic resin countertop is a common choice, because it is resistant to chemicals, moisture, and abrasion. It also has a smooth and non-porous surface that is easy to clean and disinfect. Alternatively, while epoxy resin has a higher heat tolerance, it may not be ideal for labs that use high-frequency electrical equipment, as it is not very conductive and may interfere with the signals. In such cases, stainless steel may be a better option, as it is highly conductive and resistant to corrosion and fire.
  • Maintenance: A third factor to consider when choosing a lab countertop is the maintenance. The maintenance of the lab countertop affects the longevity, hygiene, and appearance of the lab. For example, some materials may require more frequent cleaning and polishing than others to prevent stains, scratches, and deterioration. Some materials may also be more prone to damage from exposure to sunlight, humidity, or temperature changes. Therefore, it is important to choose a material that is easy to maintain and compatible with the environmental conditions of the lab.

Consider the laws and Legislation

Depending on the aims and objectives of your lab, and the type of tests/experiments conducted, there might also be standards and laws that determine the type of lab countertop   that you should use, including:

  • Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories standard (29 CFR 1910.1450)
  • Good Laboratory Practice Standards (40 CFR Part 792)
  • Laboratory Safety Guidance (OSHA 3404)

They influence the safety, efficiency, and quality of the research conducted in the lab by mandating factors such as material, design, and maintenance. Therefore, it is essential to choose a lab countertop that meets the specific needs and requirements of each lab, in line with safety regulations and standards.

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