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What are Chemical Fume Hoods and Why Laboratories Should Have Them?

Working in a lab can quickly lead to exposure to various vapors, gases, and specks of the dust of toxic, flammable, corrosive or otherwise dangerous materials. Fume hoods are standard pieces of lab equipment that can significantly decrease the inhalation exposures to these hazardous chemicals. They are some of the most critical engineering controls in a lab, and when not functioning correctly, there is a genuine reason to be worried.

The Importance of Chemical Hoods

Chemical hoods are the first protective line when it comes to significant laboratory dangers, categorized in four major groups: inhalation of toxic vapors, chemical absorption, chemical and thermal burns, and fires and explosions. The effects of a poisonous chemical on your body may be either acute or chronic, but the longer the exposure, the higher the danger. The inhalation of harmful fumes is the most common way laboratory workers are exposed to risk, and it has the highest potential of directly jeopardizing their health.  

What Do They Consist Of?

Chemical fume hoods commonly consist of five primary elements, body and the sash being the two main components. The hood contains a work surface on which lab workers conduct their research, and the only part of it not enclosed is in front. The sash encompasses the hood fully, and it acts as a window so that researchers can quickly open it and access the hood. When the sash is closed, the airflow is restricted.

How Does It Work?

A correctly operating fume hood draws the polluted air into the unit and out of the room while diluting contaminated air by mixing in fresh air. The process requires a sufficient quantity of air, so installing too many hoods in an insufficiently large room can reduce the effectiveness unless there is a supportive air pumping ventilation in the room.

The Variety

Depending on the laboratory requirements, chemical hoods can come in all shapes and sizes. The model can vary: a bench-top hood, a walk-in one, workstation or portable type, or customized for the accommodation of specific laboratory needs. To construct the exact fume hood that a laboratory needs; it is highly advised to work closely with the manufacturer.

A Few More Thoughts

There are many guidelines on operating fume hoods to maximize the hood effectiveness and minimize potential danger. Some of them are making sure the side walls and airfoil of the hood aren’t blocked, reducing foot traffic by the face of the hood, not making fast movements when taking items in and out of the hood, and minimizing the total time the sash is opened. Although the hood itself has a function to protect the laboratory worker, it does not protect from chemical splashing and does not prevent accidents from happening. Therefore other protective equipment should be worn according to the usual protocol.

The chemical fume hoods require proper operating but also regular maintenance since a lot can go wrong really quickly. Essentially, waiting for the malfunction to become obvious can be too little, too late. To make sure your laboratory is always in top shape and your employees safe, work with a professional, reputable supply company and keep everything in control.