A Guide to Regulations and Planning Permission When Building a Science Laboratory

a man standing at laboratory fume hood

When building a new research suite, it’s vital you consider permissions and regulations from the outset. This will ensure your build complies with all safety standards and will protect you against avoidable delays.

Planning and regulations can seem complicated and daunting, that’s why we’ve put together this guide to meeting all standards and maintaining the highest quality of building work.

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Which planning permissions are needed when building a science laboratory?

If you’re planning to house your laboratory in a purpose-built facility or proposing an extension to an existing building, you must apply to your local planning department for approval.

How to approach the planning process

Ideally, an architect experienced in laboratory planning will draft your initial plans. They might collaborate with, or seek input from, your local Fire Safety Officer to ensure that the appropriate safety measures have been accounted for, in accordance with the safety regulations as defined in the Regulatory Reform Order 2005 (RRO).

Your insurance provider may also impose conditions on your build that you will need to fulfil before they will provide cover for your laboratory.

A scientist working with some technical machinery in a science lab

Which building regulations apply to science laboratories?

All building work carried out in England and Wales must comply with The Building Regulations 2010. But precise regulations your build is subject to will depend on your area and your application.

For example, school science labs are regulated by The Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science (CLEAPPS) and medical laboratories are required to follow guidance from The Department of Health (see HTM 67).

Laboratory Size

Certain considerations are required during the planning process, depending upon the size of the planned laboratory.

Allowing adequate space per person

Guidance from the HSE states that a minimum allocation of 11m3 is required per person working in a space. But this may not be adequate, depending on the nature of laboratory work and the layout of your lab.

For example, do you need to allow enough space for large equipment to be moved around or for back-to-back working? The latter will be particularly relevant in a school laboratory. The Department of Education states that ‘There are no regulations controlling the size of individual laboratories, but adequate space is clearly needed for safe practical work.’

Laboratory Ventilation

Planning for sufficient ventilation is vitally important when developing a research suite, ensuring no workers in the lab suffer as a result of poor ventilation.

“Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air.” Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

Whether you are installing a lab in a school, a university or a private facility, an efficient ventilation system is required. This guidance from The Health and Safety Executive explains how to ensure that your local exhaust ventilation system (LVE) is designed, installed and tested in accordance with the law.

Fume Cupboards

Fume cupboards give protection against any fumes and hazardous gases that are produced whilst working in the lab. Most systems expel gases into the atmosphere through an external duct and should meet the British Standard (BS EN 14175).

How are fume cupboards tested?

To meet British standards, your fume cupboard must pass the face velocity test. A vane anemometer is used to measure airflow, and to determine how efficiently the system is removing fumes from the lab and exhausting them out of the building.

Your system must be extracting an adequate volume of air from the lab environment to be effective at removing harmful gases. The minimum accepted reading will vary slightly depending on your application. In general, a reading of 0.5ms-1 is acceptable for work with hazardous materials, with school fume cupboards requiring higher minimum readings.

How often should you have your system tested?

You are legally required to have your fume cupboard tested every 12 months. Choose a company which is accredited and can carry out the test to the appropriate standard:

  • CLEAPSS G9 for Fume Cupboards in Schools
  • BS EN 14175 for Ducted Fume Cupboards

Fire Regulations

Both commercial and educational laboratories must comply with The Building Regulations 2010 Part B. There are two aspects to meeting fire safety regulations:

  1. Safety to life
  2. Property protection

The Regulatory Reform Order 2005 applies to all non-dwelling properties, where there could be a risk to life. To ensure your laboratory is legally compliant, you will need to make provisions for appropriate:

  • Emergency exits and fire doors
  • Fire detection systems
  • Firefighting equipment
  • Safe storage of hazardous substances

How you comply with these regulations will depend, partly, on your budget. For example, you may opt to incorporate FD60-rated fire safe walls into your lab in place of a more expensive sprinkler system. Conditions of your insurance policy will also affect the level of property protection you need.

For further guidance on complying with UK Fire Regulations, take a look at this short guide to making your premises safe from fire.

Fire Doors

Carry out a risk assessment for your building to check if you need a fire door to comply with The Building Regulations. Fire doors should be:

  • Self-closing, except those on cupboards and vents which are usually kept locked (see Appendix B: Fire Doors) or be connected to the fire detection system, causing doors to close immediately in the event of a fire
  • Marked with the appropriate safety signs, for example, ‘Fire Door – Keep Shut’ or ‘Keep Locked When Not in Use’
  • Tested in accordance with the British Standard EN 1634 and have been shown to meet the minimum standard of fire resistance required

Laboratory Doors

The doors may seem a minor consideration when developing a new laboratory, but these need to be subjected to their own rigorous checks.


All storage cupboards and access doors in a laboratory must be lockable. If your laboratory is rated at a contamination level of 2 or 3 (CL2, CL3) then COSHH requires access to be restricted. You can restrict access by using a standard lock and key, a pin-code entry system or a swipe card entry system.

Safety Exits

It is no longer a legal requirement for laboratories in the UK to have a second exit. But it is good practice to have a secondary exit, particularly if you are constructing a new, a purpose-built facility. You are responsible for assessing the risk and making suitable provisions.

Storage of Hazardous Chemicals

Laboratories storing chemicals which may pose a risk to human health are required to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulation (COSHH). Our article ‘What is COSHH?’ gives a useful overview of the regulations and what they mean for laboratories.

What to consider when building a COSHH-compliant laboratory:

  • Are there sufficient lockable cabinets for controlled substances?
  • Have you prepared for the segregation of hazardous substances?
  • Is your Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system sufficient to extract harmful gases?
  • Have you allowed for adequate washing facilities, such as an eye bath station?
  • Are your work surfaces made from easy-to-clean materials?

2 scientists working on a computer and using an ipad tablet

In laboratories where the contamination risk is high, you may need to consider the following:

Visit the HSE website for more information on COSHH best practices

Laboratories working with biological agents must also notify the Health and Safety Executive when category HG2, HG3 and HG4 agents are used on the premises for the first time. You may also need to alert your local authorities, waste disposal agent and water supplier.

InterFocus can help you create a safe, fully-regulated working environment. For more information about our bespoke fitted labs, visit our homepage or call our team on 01223 894 833.

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