The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 19702 established two principal duties for each employer covered by the act. The first duty requires that each employer "shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." The second duty requires that each employer "shall comply with Occupational Safety and Health Standards promulgated under this Act." These duties underscore the need of an employer to insist that a new or renovated facility promote, rather than hinder, safe occupancy. The initial Occupational Safety and Health Standards promulgated under the act addressed workplace safety hazards that were known to cause physical injury to workers. OSHA continues to emphasize an employer's responsibility to safeguard workers from electrical, mechanical, and fire hazards, as well as from exposure to flammable, corrosive, reactive, and toxic chemicals. All of these physical hazards have relevance to the design, construction, and operation of chemical laboratories.
Several safety issues that need to be addressed by the project team are briefly described below. They are intended to highlight the importance of addressing physical hazards that could cause injury to workers as a result of the poor design of chemical laboratories.
The most important safeguard for preventing serious personal injury that a building can provide is a means of egress that will permit the prompt escape of building occupants in case of fire or other emergency. The means of egress consist of three separate and distinct parts: the pathway of exit access, the exit, and the pathway of exit discharge. Local fire codes and OSHA standards require that a means of egress be a continuous and unobstructed route from any point in the building to a public way.
In chemical laboratory buildings, the exit access comprises the hallways and corridors that lead directly from a laboratory module or work area to the entrance of a designated exit. This part of the means of egress must provide an unobstructed path of travel both to promote the fast and orderly exit of building occupants and to allow emergency responders to gain safe and efficient access to the emergency scene. These functions can best be preserved if the corridors are designed so that they do not encourage misuse. For example, if a laboratory corridor that serves as an exit access is designed with a greater width than is