1. Federal Code of Regulations (“CFR”), Title 29, Labor
  2. NC Building Code
  3. NC Fire Prevention Code
  4. NC Mechanical Code
  5. CDC Select Agents, Title 42, Part 73
  6. National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”) Handbook 70
  7. National Electric Code
  8. NC Radiation Control Regulations

Consensus Standards and References

  1. American National Standard for Laboratory Ventilation (ANSI/AIHA Z9.5-)
  2. American National Standard for Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy (ANSI/ASHRAE 55-1992)
  3. NC Radiation Protection Section
  4. “Safe Handling of Radioactive Materials”, National Council on Radiation Protection (NBS 92) Handbook
  5. “Safe Handling of Radionuclides”, International Atomic Energy Agency, Safety Series No. 1, (1973 ed. is still current as of 1999) (IAEA)
  6. CDC-NIH Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, 5th (or latest) Edition
  7. Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules (NIH Guidelines), April 2002 (or latest)
  8. Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage: A Practical Guide, Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA-74, 1994
The primary objective in laboratory design is to provide a safe environment for laboratory personnel to conduct their work. Therefore, all health and safety hazards must be identified and carefully evaluated so that protective measures can be incorporated into the design. The basic laboratory design features listed in this section illustrate some of the basic health and safety elements to include in all new and remodeled laboratories at UNC. The subsections of Section 2.1 provide specific guidance on additional critical features of a general laboratory (e.g., fume hoods, hazardous materials storage, and compressed gases.) (Keep in mind, however, that no matter how well designed a laboratory is, improper usage of its facilities will always defeat the engineered safety features.)
The laboratory must be completely separated from outside areas (i.e., must be bound by four walls).

The laboratory shall have means of securing specifically regulated materials such as DEA Controlled Substances, CDC Select Agents and radioactive materials (i.e., lockable doors, lockable cabinets, etc.)

Having secured hazardous materials storage will keep unauthorized personnel from gaining access to them. These regulations apply specifically to laboratories containing radioactive materials, CDC Select Agents and DEA Controlled Substances; however, UNC-Chapel Hill EHS interprets this to include all laboratories (e.g., general chemistry and electronics). Laboratories which may use CDC Select Agents shall have secured entry doors that upon illegal entry alarm to DPS and EHS.

Doors in H-occupancy laboratories shall have doors which swing in the direction of egress. Doors serving B-occupancy shall swing in the direction of egress if the occupant load is 50 or more. Where possible, all B-occupancy lab doors should swing out with hardware satisfying ADA requirements.

On the next to each door entry into the laboratory an 8.5 x 11 inch space must be provided for a standardized clear frame with the room number and hazard warning sheet insert (landscape orientation).

Each door into a laboratory room must have a view panel.

Inside the laboratory, on the wall adjacent to the door latch, provide 2 feet of clear space for light switches, telephone, thermostat and fire extinguisher. Vents are prohibited in laboratory doors which open to egress/access corridors.

Laboratories which use hoods or other larger equipment should be equipped with doorways that have 48 inch openings. Each opening should accommodate a 36 active door leaf and a 12 inch inactive leaf.

If the laboratory has windows that open they must be fitted with insect screens.
The floor must be a one-piece non-pervious and with covings to the wall. This can be achieved by use of glue, heat welded vinyl flooring, epoxy-coated concrete slab, etc.

Floors should be coved up walls and cabinets to ensure spills cannot penetrate underneath floors/cabinets. Tiles and wooden planks are not appropriate because liquids can seep through the small gaps between them. These references apply specifically to laboratories containing biological and radioactive materials; however, UNC-Chapel Hill EHS interprets this to include all laboratories (e.g., general chemistry, electronics, etc.).

Floors in storage areas for corrosive liquids shall be of liquid tight construction.

Each laboratory must contain a sink for hand washing. Elbow or electronic sensing faucet controls are recommended particularly for biological agents and/or highly toxic chemicals.

Sink faucets and hose bibs that are intended for use with attached hoses must be equipped with back siphon prevention devices.

Laboratory sinks shall have lips that protect sink drains from spills.

Sink lips or berms should be >= 0.25 inches and designed to completely separate the lab bench or fume hood work area from the sink drain.

Chemical storage shelves shall not be placed above laboratory sinks.

Chemical storage shelves shall be flush to a back wall and shall have a ½-inch lip along the front edge.

Sufficient space or facilities (e.g., storage cabinets with partitions) shall be provided so that incompatible chemicals can be physically separated. This will be based on the chemical inventory and use projection provided by the Principal Investigator to the project and EHS. If the project scope cannot provide sufficient storage the user must develop a written management control plan to include as part of their local Chemical Hygiene Plan.

Materials, which in combination with other substances may cause a fire or explosion, or may liberate a flammable or poisonous gas, must be kept separate. Recommend that solvent storage not be located under the laboratory fume hood, as this is a location where fires are most likely to occur in laboratories.

Adequate space must be provided for the collection of waste materials.

All labs should be designed to conveniently and safely accommodate the temporary storage of biological, radiological, and chemical wastes based on laboratory use projections. Wastes are generally stored in the lab in which they are generated, not in centralized accumulation areas. Contact EHS if waste storage and space become design challenges.

All furniture must be sturdy. All work surfaces (e.g., bench tops and counters) must be impervious to the chemicals used.

For example, many microbiological manipulations involve concurrent use of chemical solvents such as formaldehyde, phenol, and ethanol as well as corrosives. The lab bench must be resistant to the chemical actions of these substances and disinfectants. Wooden bench tops are not appropriate because an unfinished wood surface can absorb liquids. Also, wood burns rapidly in the event of a fire. Fiberglass is inappropriate since it can degrade when strong disinfectants are applied. Fiberglass also releases toxic smoke when burned. These references apply specifically to laboratories containing biological and radioactive materials; however, UNC-Chapel Hill EHS interprets this to include all laboratories (e.g., general chemistry and electronics).

The lab shall have a minimum aisle clearance of at least 24 inches. Main aisles used for emergency egress must have a clearance width of at least 36 inches.

Lab benches and other furniture must be placed a minimum of 36 inches from an exit.

Lab desks should be located near exit ways and in the path of fresh make up air.

The laboratory must be designed so that it can be easily cleaned. Walls should be painted with washable, hard non-porous paints.

Spaces between benches, cabinets, and equipment must be accessible for cleaning.

Laboratory furniture must have smooth, non-porous surfaces so as to resist the absorption of liquids and the harsh effects of disinfectants. Furniture must not be positioned in such a manner that makes it difficult to clean spilled liquids or conduct routine maintenance. These references apply specifically to laboratories containing biological and radioactive materials; however, UNC-Chapel Hill EHS interprets this to include all laboratories (e.g., general chemistry and electronics).

The design of the laboratory building must incorporate adequate additional facilities for food storage/consumption and personal hygiene tasks outside of the rooms where chemical and biological materials are handled.

Break rooms should be sized based upon floor occupancy and must be dedicated as a break area and not serve other functions such as a copy center or equipment storage.

A minimum of one break room is required per floor unless separate desk space is provided for each occupant in office areas which are walled off and separately ventilated from the laboratory space.

Laboratory room supply should discharge through a perforated ceiling/plenum at velocities not exceeding 50 fpm. Supply terminal velocity at the face of the hood must not exceed 25 fpm or 30 per cent of the minimum face velocity (whichever is less).

The building DDC system should have spare capacity for building gas and vapor sensor inputs.

Sensor technology should be considered for emergency detection and alarm for highly hazardous gases or vapors.

Winter: 69-76 °F (at 35% RH); Summer: 73-79 °F (at 60% RH)

Consider providing chilled water line services to laboratories with significant heat loads.

Certain equipment may be specified to incorporate centrally produced chilled water and reduce water use and conditioned air.

Chilled water lines may be connected to portable fan coil units for spot cooling in rooms with high general heat loads.

Cabinetry or other structures or equipment must not block or reduce effectiveness of supply or exhaust air.

Supply diffusers and room exhaust openings are located along laboratory ceilings. Storage of boxes near these openings may obstruct the circulation of air and supply or exhaust air functioning.

General laboratories must have a minimum of 6-air changes/hour.

OSHA requires a minimum of 6 AC/HR in chemical storage rooms. Since most laboratories store some quantities of chemicals, this regulation applies.

Laboratories should be equipped with an emergency exhaust button with reset capability located next to the exit door to provide up to 12 air exchanges per hour in the event of a chemical emergency (gas leak, volatile liquid spill, smoke, etc.)

Laboratories must be maintained under negative pressure in relation to the corridor or other less hazardous areas.

Clean rooms requiring positive pressure should have entry vestibules (anterooms) provided with door-closing mechanisms so that both doors are not open at the same time.

Air exhausted from the general laboratory space (as distinguished from exhaust hoods) must not be recirculated unless one of the criteria listed in ANSI/AIHA Z9.5 are met. Exhaust air from hoods is never recirculated.

General laboratory and Hood exhaust systems which pass conditioned building air through heat recovery systems require maintenance at the filtration/heat exchange units. These units should be maintainable without physical entry into the exhaust system.

If bodily entry is required into the ventilation system, isolation valves/dampers must be provided for each section being entered. Also, Grade D air must be plumbed to the units to allow the use of supplied air respirator hoods or masks while working inside the ventilation system.



Standard, floor mounted, closed-base type (may have access doors), should be used in all laboratories.

  • Metal or Hardwood (such as oak or other approved equivalent) – should be used in
    1. General research and teaching laboratories where humidity and temperature will be normal (standard for occupied rooms), where casework maintenance is not a compelling factor, and where flammable, corrosive, or toxic substances will not be absorbed into the surface.
  • Plastic Laminate – Should be used in:
    1. Miscellaneous storage and workrooms requiring base or wall storage facilities, and where the infusion of appropriate colors may be architecturally desirable.
    2. Only non-combustible and non-reactive laminates may be used where flammable or corrosive chemicals are to be stored or used.

Should not be considered for new construction. Variances may be considered on renovation projects on a case-by-case basis

Counter Tops

Chemical Reaction and Abuse Resistance – for chemical resistance work surfaces, either of the following should be used:

  1. Type 1 – Composition Stone — with a chemical resistant resin finish.
  2. Type 2 – Natural Quarry Stone — with a chemical resistant finish.
  3. Type 3 – Solid Resin — for chemical resistant surfaces and in the bottom of general purpose fume hoods
General Purpose

Areas where neither chemical nor physical abuse is expected and where no liquid services are to be used, such as 30″ high desk and writing surfaces, instrument support surfaces, or storage areas may use either of the following:

  1. Type 4 – Wood Core — A wood fiber or wood particleboard core with chemical resistant finish on all exposed surfaces.
  2. Type 5 – Plastic Laminate — Plastic Laminate surface with a wood particle core; may be selfedged or post-formed.
Radiation and Other Special Uses

Areas where radioactive materials or other special uses are approved should use the following:

  1. Type 6 – Stainless Steel — Type 316 polished stainless steel counter top surfaces
    may be approved on a case-by-case basis.
Physical Abuse Resistance

Areas where abrasive physical abuse is expected; Physics, Earth Sciences, Geology, or Paleontology laboratories shall use:

  1. Type 3 – Solid Resin — with a chemical resistant surface, or
  2. Type 7 – Composition Stone — with a low gloss vinyl sealer.
Fume Hood Work Surfaces

Should be selected as follows:

  1. General Purpose Hoods – Type 3, Solid Resin (chemical resistant)
  2. Radiation Hoods – Type 6 – (Type 316 Stainless Steel).
  3. Perchloric Acid Hoods – Type 6 – ( Type 316 Stainless Steel).
  4. Special Purpose Hoods – Type 3, Solid Resin (chemical resistant)

Where these casework guidelines are not deemed suitable, alternates of equal or better quality and durability shall be discussed with the UNC Chapel Hill EHS Office.


GFI protection shall be provided to electrical receptacles above counter tops and within 6 feet of sinks. Receptacles that are not readily accessible or receptacles for appliances occupying dedicated space, which are cord-and-plug connected in accordance with NEC Section 400-7A (6-8), are exempted.

Circuit breakers should be located outside the lab. All breakers must be clearly labeled as to equipment, lighting and outlets served.

In the event of an emergency, the laboratory may be unsafe to enter. Hence, the circuit breakers for key electrical appliances should be located outside the lab.


Valves for building gas supply lines should be located outside the lab.

The flexible connections should be used for connecting gas and other plumbed utilities to any freestanding device including, but not limited to; biosafety cabinets, incubators, and liquid nitrogen freezers. Flexible connections should be appropriate for the pressure requirements and should be constructed of material compatible with the transport gas. A shutoff valve should be located within sight of the connection and clearly marked.

Sink drain traps must be transparent (e.g., made of glass) and easy to inspect or have drain plugs to facilitate mercury spill control.

Lab waste water lines shall be separate from domestic sewage and sampling points shall be installed in an easily accessible location outside the building.

The sampling point shall be installed at a location where all building lab wastes are discharged, before the lab waste line connects to the domestic waste line. The sampling point shall be designed so that it is perpendicular to the lab waste line, has a minimum 4 inch diameter, has a cleanout screw on cap and is protected by a Christie Box. The sampling point should not be located in an area where water from irrigation or flow from stormwater runoff can accumulate.

All gas and utility supply lines shall be clearly marked along their entire length through the building. One suggested marking scheme is outlined in SEFA 7, 1994 as follows:

Number Service Color Code Color of Letter
1 Cold Water Dark Green CW White
2 Hot Water Red HW White
3 Steam Black STM White
4 Air Orange Air Black
5 Gas Dark Blue Gas White
6 Vacuum Yellow Vac Black
7 Distilled Water White DW Black
8 Oxygen Light Green OXY White
9 Hydrogen Pink H Black
10 Nitrogen Gray N Black
11 All Other Rare Gases Light Blue Chemical Symbol Black
Proceed to Fume Hoods