Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Importance of Fume Cabinets for Laboratory Safety

If you are someone who has never been inside a professional laboratory, you may not have ever heard of fume cabinets much less what fume extract systems refer to. On a basic level, these items are used to retain control over noxious fumes that may be present in a laboratory. There are three primary ways this is achieved:

  1. Fume cabinets - These are units which are sealed to keep fumes from permeating the general lab environment.
  2. Fume hoods - hoods specifically designed in order to draw unpleasant fumes away from the environment.
  3. Fume extract systems - These are complex systems designed specifically to keep fumes and dust particles out of the environment or atmosphere.

Using any of these protective items may be mandated depending upon the specific type of laboratory experiments that are performed. Of course, not every conducted experiment will create or contain noxious fumes or even unpleasant ones.

Fume cabinets or fume cupboards are in actuality completely enclosed pods with sash door openings which allow the experimenter suitable access while working on anything that needs to have the fumes regulated well enough that fumes do not enter the other areas of the laboratory, school or the corporate offices. They come in a variety of sizes and formats - some may be bench mounted, while others are flush to the floor allowing the technician to wheel large pieces of equipment into a safe environment. Some of these cabinets are even equipped with a fume monitoring system that offer airflow monitoring combined with both visual as well as audible safety alarms should the safety be compromised where ever operator protection is vital. In addition mobile units are available allowing even greater flexibility. As you can imagine these fume cabinets are in great use by laboratories as well as local authorities, manufacturing, hospitals, electronics, as well as research laboratories.

In certain instances specialist fume cabinets may be required, such as when dealing with radio chemicals. In these cases the fume cabinets have special adaptations, such as containing a strong metal sub-frame below the worktop which increases its load bearing capacity to permit the use of lead shielding blocks. When dealing with aggressive acids such as hydrochloric or sulphuric acid, special purpose water wash fume cabinets are available. These have toughened glass shields fitted to the side walls to protect the polypropylene interior, with cooling and cleaning sprays fitted to dilute any spilt acid. Fume washing is provided by a number of water sprays installed at a high level, and the water mist they produce cools the fumes and removes the acid content of fumes. The diluted solution then drains into the chemical drainage system.

Of course, there are many different types of fume hoods that comprise a wide range of material and among the most popular is Polypropylene. This is an extremely durable and resistant material that is highly resistant to chemical acids, bases, and solvents used in chemical compounds that are greatly corrosive to normal construction. This is what can lead to a high instance of rust. Thankfully, these hoods will accurately and can completely remove the problematic vapors, fumes, and other toxic materials. This will yield the necessary protection to protect both operator and environment. These items can be bench mounted and over bench models are also available and they do not absorb valuable bench space. The way this is accomplished is by the hood maintaining an air system that will draw in air and exhaust from outside the building. This allows the fumes to be removed from the capture breathing zone of employees. For those working in a lab, this will be greatly needed in order for safety purposes.

It is important to point out that many safety standards have been set by numerous industry and government entities. One common set standard for a fume hood is the inclusion of a face velocity device. This will comprise the actual speed that normal lab air will enter the fume hoods facial opening. The purpose here is that the fume hoods face velocity is raised so that it will contain noxious fumes without causing any unnecessary air turbulence that may exist between the hoods face and the worker who is facing it. These is the type of thing that should be considered when looking at COSHH testing, whereby the operation of a lab is assessed according to strict health and safety guidelines.

Fume extract systems are known to incorporate a wide range of fume cabinets and hoods as well as similar extraction devices. This is done to ensure the safety of a fume free and dust free environment for workers who occupy a large area. This is achieved by removing gases, dust and smoke directly from the source of such an environment. From this, pollutants will be isolated, contained, and extracted before they are able to spread to other areas of the premises. Such items are widespread in industrial venues such as welding environments or those where the presence of dust is highly problematic.

Hopefully by now you have a clear understanding of what a fume cabinet entails and what other fume extraction systems can deliver for the safe operation of a laboratory. Fume extract systems and fume cabinets are vital to protect workers in such laboratories and that is why their installation is so important.