Understanding the Importance of Right-sourcing Fume Hoods for Laboratory safety

If you are setting up a new laboratory, or if your existing lab is due for a renovation, one of the critical infrastructure components of the facility is a well-functioning, efficient, ventilation system. And proper hoods, that exhaust harmful chemical fumes, are vital to that system. At times, when pressed for deadlines and schedules, sourcing that equipment may be challenging, especially during times of global supply chain constraints. A used fume hood will not only save you time, but it can also save you money!

Laboratory Safety Considerations

While in a laboratory setting, technicians and staff aren’t immune to occupational hazards. Chemical fumes, often colorless and odorless, may be a byproduct of experiments or processes conducted in the lab. Chemical fume inhalation and skin exposure can cause serious harm to lab staff.  Lab safety best practices recommend the implementation of appropriate engineering controls to prevent such outcomes.

The use of a good quality fume hood, also called a chemical fume hood and an efficient ventilation system are part of those best practices. While trained lab staff might always operate at their laboratory workstations wearing personal respirators or personal protective equipment (PPE), safety-conscious laboratories must not rely on such measures as the first line of defense against fumes.

Your lab ventilation system, and an optimally functioning chemical hood, must be your primary defense to prevent inhalation of, or personal contact with, vapors. When functioning properly, and if positioned and installed correctly, the chemical hood will intercept fumes at their origin – typically the workstation where the experiment, test or procedure is occurring, and quickly deliver it into the laboratory’s exhaust system.

Right-sourcing means finding the best product at the best value in the optimal time frame.  These three criteria of quality, value, and time are key to making the correct decision on purchasing any product or service.  When considering a chemical fume hood, right-sourcing may open up new options such as, minimally-used or refurbished used fume hoods.   However, the consideration of a fourth selection criteria is critical.  This criteria is operational safety.  Does the fume hood work as for it’s intended purpose.  And what test can be employed to determine whether existing fume ventilation systems are functioning adequately.

The Acid Test

How do you determine whether your laboratory is a safe place for staff and technicians to work in? For instance, when working with combustible oxidizing substances, there’s a risk of strong fumes or even explosions in case of mishaps. Even though staff may wear gloves, face, and eye protection, it’s important to work under a hood when using strong oxidizers.

The National Research Council (US) Committee on Prudent Practices in the Laboratory, in its publication “Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards”, proposes a simple qualitative test that you may adapt to verify the adequacy of your laboratory fume hood.   This simple qualitative method in Box 6.1 will determine whether your existing hood is functioning properly or whether it needs modification or replacing. The hood must pass this, or a similar, test to demonstrate functionality.

When considering right-sourcing, one should add gently-used or refurbished chemical hood to the mix.  These can be as effective as a new hoods.  However, whether purchasing a used fume hood or a new one, both must pass the “acid test” to ensure it’s keeping your environment safe.