This recent article on The Herald web site highlights how careful we all need to be when trying to contain things in a secure laboratory environment. While I don’t know the specific details of this particular facility or the event that was investigated, it does highlight that the success of any laboratory is the interaction between the buildings features and the procedures used to operate it.
All scientific buildings need to be built to minimum standards, and depending on the use of the building, those standards demand different features to be incorporated. However, to ensure that the building provides the environment needed, the management regime needs to be carefully considered to ensure the correct features are provided.
A couple of illustrations to demonstrate this.
The standard says all surfaces must be able to be wiped down with disinfectant. If the operating procedure calls for the use of a typically used, every day product then the walls, floors and other surfaces can be made of relatively standard materials, so long as they are smooth and water resistant. If on the other hand the operating procedure calls for the use of a strong alkaline solution at very high temperature, then the building and the fittings need to be constructed of entirely different materials.
As another example, the standard says the lab needs to be fumigated. If the management system determines that you are going to close off that area and clear out all people, then the building features are relatively straight forward. If on the other hand you want to be able to keep staff working in the adjacent room, with a pressure differential between the rooms, then the building structure and the mechanical plant required is significantly different.
Although both systems are suitable for the same science being done, one is significantly more inconvenient and time consuming than the other. One is also cheaper than the other.
You can then see the potential problems where you change the management system later on, and the building environment may not cope too well.
It is equally true in the reverse, where a time consuming or limiting operating procedure could be significantly improved by changing some of the building features, so as to allow greater ease of use.
It is human nature to take short cuts where an operating procedure is overly complicated or an impediment to doing their work.
Therefore a comfortable balance needs to be struck of features, environment and usability. Careful consideration of (what usually boils down to) cost vs benefit needs to be taken during the design stage of any new or refurbished facility. It also needs just as much consideration when changing the use of an existing facility. Especially when you consider the total life cycle costs and operational costs.
For any scientific facility to be successful, the building needs to have the right features, that match how it is going to be used. Then these two together need to be suitable so that the users are able to (and want to) do their science (work) in that way.