A chemical fume hood is an essential component of laboratory safety as they function to control the level of hazardous vapors, liquids and smoke in the workplace. For the safety of lab workers and employees who may be around them, employers should ensure that their staff know how to properly operate a fume hood. With the risks involved with chemical handling and processing, there is little room for error.
Here are five common mistakes associated with using a fume hood:
1. Not maintaining a safe distance from the fume hood
When lab employees are performing lab work, they must ensure the chemicals and other apparatus are kept a safe distance away from the face of the hood. At least six inches should separate their projects from the hood, according to the Laboratory Safety Manual from the University of California at Santa Cruz. As workers determine the best place to situate a fume hood, they should make sure the hood is not in a location where employees have to pass directly in front of the hood.
2. Blocking airflow to the hood
Workers should also be reminded that they should not block the airflow from underneath the fume hood as this could cause this equipment to not function optimally, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration advised. Other obstruction risks could include body parts, which should not be placed too close to hood openings.
“Never allow your head to enter the plane of the hood opening,” OSHA said. “For example, for vertical rising sashes, keep the sash below your face; for horizontal sliding sashes, keep the sash positioned in front of you and work around the side of the sash.”
3. Keeping chemicals in the hood permanently
Chemicals or other materials should not be stored in the hood for a long period of time, according to UCSC, especially if they pose a flammability risk or can cause a spark. When bottles containing solvent are near the fume hood, they should remain closed when they are not utilized.
4. Not knowing specific chemical hazards
Since different chemicals may be associated with certain dangers to lab workers – from being extremely flammable to generating a high level of toxicity – employers must fully comply with OSHA’s hazard communication standard. Before operating a fume hood, workers should be trained to use a fume hood as an engineering control for occupational hazards and be able to recognize these risks, OSHA said.
5. Being unprepared for emergencies
Knowing specific hazards will also come in handy in an emergency. OSHA said that workers could review the chemical’s Material Safety Data Sheet. Staff should know permissible exposure limits for chemicals, especially for materials that can be absorbed or inhaled. If workers notice that a fume hood may be malfunctioning or not working to the manufacturer’s specifications, they should contact their supervisor immediately and have a contingency plan in place if equipment failure should occur.
“When using extremely hazardous chemicals, understand your laboratory’s action plan in case an emergency, such as a power failure, occurs,” OSHA said.
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