There are no regulations that state whether laboratory stools are permitted, or not permitted, in laboratory workstations. In all situations, a site-specific risk assessment must be conducted. In an ideal situation, the laboratory will have two distinct areas, one for theory and writing up, and another for practical work. In this situation, the need for stools at the practical benches is minimal. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most school situations.
Science ASSIST recommends that stools are placed under the practical bench, unless required for use, to enable free access to the bench and not impede the student from exiting the classroom in the event of an emergency evacuation. Schools need to evaluate their individual circumstances to determine the best seating/standing option.
There are three aspects to consider with regard to the requirement for stools:
- the nature of the school science activity;
- the design of the science teaching laboratory; and
- access and egress.
The nature of the school science activity: standing or sitting?
Activities involving working with chemicals and/or heating are better suited to working in a standing position. In the unfortunate event of a chemical spill, people nearby can quickly move away from the spill if they are in a standing rather than a seated position. In addition, the amount of body surface area likely to be in contact with a potential spill will be less if standing, as opposed to the larger surface area of someone’s lap when in a seated position.
Activities such as using a microscope and/or detailed work and writing up activities are generally better suited to working in a seated position.
The design of the science teaching laboratory
Few Australian secondary schools have the resources to build separate science teaching and practical laboratory facilities. Some compromises in the most desirable features of the two will be inevitable. The location of the practical benches will determine whether seating at benches is required for non-practical lessons.
Some designs have writing tables which are separate to the practical benches, which may either be island or perimeter benches. Others have centrally distributed laboratory benches combined with writing tables in parallel rows facing the teacher bench.
If the design of the science teaching laboratory is such that the writing tables are also used as practical benches, then stools will be required for when writing is required.
Access and egress
An important issue associated with the use of laboratory stools in a practical area is the obstruction of egress in an emergency situation. A natural reaction of a class of students is that in the event of an emergency evacuation, they are likely to rush and knock over stools, which may interfere with their egress route creating an additional hazard which is best avoided. Therefore, stools should be placed under the benches at the start of activities to enable free movement within the room.
“AS/NZS2982-2010 states in 2.11
- An unobstructed egress path shall be provided from each laboratory
- Compliance with the egress limits of the Building code shall be regarded as the minimum requirement.”1
CLEAPSS addresses the issue of standing versus sitting in its guidance material G30 Successful science practicals
The FINN Scientific “Safety Fax – Laboratory Design” lists 45 Ideas, Tips, and Hints to design a safe and efficient chemistry laboratory. Point 20 in this list notes that stools are not widely used due to safety and space considerations.
1Standards Australia. 2010. AS/NZS2982-2010 Laboratory Design and Construction. Sydney Australia. Reproduced with permission from SAI Global Ltd under Licence 1407-c117
CLEAPSS. 2009. G30 Successful science practicals. http://science.cleapss.org.uk/Resource-Info/G030-Successful-Science-Prac...(Link updated January 2018)
Flinn Scientific Inc. 2012 Chemistry Laboratory design Flinn Scientific website, http://www.flinnsci.com/media/396280/sf11076.pdf (Accessed Feb 2016)
Standards Australia. 2010. AS/NZS2982-2010 Laboratory Design and Construction. Sydney Australia