A Vote of No Confidence for Unsafe Lab Furniture and Careless Practices

Well-functioning labs are powerful engines that drive the production of scientific knowledge: good laboratories, that is, provide the necessary tools for thoroughgoing and rigorous research. Moreover, as vitally important learning spaces, labs grow and nurture future generations of researchers.

Unfortunately, a vibrant research culture that encourages curiosity is not enough to establish and maintain a great lab. The safety of staff and students should always be a central concern, and in our experience too many labs fall short in this endeavour. Two areas in particular are the source of much personal anxiety – the prevalence of substandard fume hoods and the poor storage of hazardous chemicals.

Fume Hoods

Beryl Labs - Fume Hood Bad Example

In this first image there is a plethora of worrying features pertaining to the fume hood. To start with, the services control (in this case, the water tap knob) is located inside the fume hood. This means that the user must manipulate the tap from within the chamber, which poses many safety issues: for example, in the event of an explosion, the services will become completely inaccessible.

A second concern is that there is no control panel displaying information regarding current airflow. The control panel is indispensable in keeping the user informed as to whether or not the fume hood is operating within an acceptable airflow range.

Before leaving this deeply problematic fume hood, it must also be pointed out that there is no back baffle. Back baffles play a crucial role in not only reducing the turbulence generated by airflow within the fume hood, but also direct this airflow away from the working surface. Essentially, back baffles act to ensure that the work surface is well ventilated.

A safe fume hood such as the Evolite Fume hood uses the correct chemical-resistant, non-porous materials and is tested and certified by third-parties. Additional safety features such as an audio/visual alarm add confidence to the safety of your fume hoods.

Beryl Labs - Fume Hood Good Example

Chemical Storage

Beryl Labs - Chemical Storage Bad 2 Beryl Labs - Chemical Storage Bad

The above two images are the stuff of nightmares, and the proper storage of all chemicals must be an imperative of lab managers, technicians, staff and learners alike. Shelving provided for storing hazardous substances should be built for purpose and fitted to an appropriate standard by a competent person. Additionally, even when structurally sound shelves have been installed it is important to adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Never overload shelves – if they are bowed they are overloaded;
  2. Store breakable containers, particularly those containing liquids and hazardous chemicals below shoulder height;
  3. Store large heavy containers at low level;
  4. Maintain good housekeeping on shelves as well as in storage cabinets by keeping clutter to an absolute minimum, and;
  5. Maintain good stock control and be aware of time-sensitive compounds such as ethers which, once opened and exposed to the air, can produce peroxides which are highly explosive. This means a regular review of what is being stored and the disposal of surplus or unwanted chemicals. Pay particular attention to expiry dates, and remember that the date on which a bottle is first opened should be clearly shown on the label.

Like fume hoods, make sure your safety cabinets have the correct certifications to store dangerous chemicals. Auditors in South Africa have become increasingly strict about accredited safety storage within South African labs. Make sure your lab is safe and up to code!


It is not a controversial statement to assert that labs that compromise on adequate safety will also compromise on the quality of their work, and if this is indeed true, then the points outlined above can only contribute to a lab that is safe, productive and cost-efficient.

If you have concerns regarding your lab’s safety, please don’t hesitate to contact Beryl Labs and start a no-obligations conversation.