How should laboratories control facility ventilation?

Ventilation and indoor air quality are important factors in laboratory
design. Laboratories may contain anything from harmless blood samples to dangerous
viruses, prompting scientists, lab technicians and other users to follow
stringent protocols in the event of an accident.

Many pathogens need physical contact to infect potential hosts; however,
others are airborne pathogens that simply need the air around them. That’s why
lab technicians need to pay close attention to facility ventilation and
indoor air quality.

Laboratory ventilation systems not only prevent airborne pathogens,
chemicals and other hazards from getting out of control, they also create comfortable
conditions for lab workers. Many biotechnology facilities are designed to prevent
natural airflow for security reasons. Given these conditions and restrictions,
laboratories also need to ensure that scientists conducting experiments in
underground or sealed facilities are getting enough oxygen.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a laboratory biosafety
manual listing out questions that facility administrators must address:

Is the laboratory’s temperature comfortable?

Does the ventilation system exchange air at least six times every hour?

Are high-efficiency particulate arrestance filters located in the ventilation
system?

Does the ventilation system negatively impact the functionality of the
biological safety cabinets and fume cupboards?

With the list covering both security concerns and employee well-being, facility
managers would do well to purchase data loggers that send them
temperature and indoor air quality data on a consistent basis.

Security protocols associated with biotech laboratories make mechanical
ventilation systems quite complex. For instance, if a technician drops a vial
containing a dangerous airborne virus, the HVAC solution will have to be
shut down to contain the hazard. In the event the ventilation system
malfunctions, the lab’s safety protocols may be compromised.

Monash University’s lab design guide details several items HVAC
mechanics should address when assessing a ventilation system’s operability. Lab
technicians may, for instance, use anemometers with volume flow hoods to
determine the performance of intake and exhaust systems.

Instruments that identify contaminants such as carbon dioxide and
nitrogen oxide must be used by HVAC mechanics as presence of these substances
may compromise the laboratory’s cleanliness and negatively impact experiments.

It’s also important that ventilation solutions must not mix air supplies
with rooms that don’t serve as laboratories. Additionally, ventilation has a
direct impact on lab technicians’ productivity. Proper airflow must be ensured
so that laboratory technicians remain alert, especially when working with
dangerous materials.

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