Any workplace has the potential to expose workers to harmful substances; however, there is a significantly greater probability within a laboratory that an individual will be exposed to hazardous materials. To ensure the protection of all laboratory workers, it is the responsibility of all principal investigators and other laboratory supervisors to provide the most appropriate protective equipment to their employees. This must comply with the Control of Hazardous Substances to Health (COSHH) law.
What exactly is COSHH?
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) is a United Kingdom statutory instrument under the direction of the Health and Safety Executive which requires employers to ensure the safety of their employees who may be exposed to hazardous substances. As far as preventive safety initiatives are concerned, the COSHH needs employees to be mindful of any potential health risks that may arise from exposure to hazardous substances that can be found at work.
With this awareness, employers are expected to provide their workers for appropriate protection measures to prevent inappropriate exposure to these substances. In addition, employers are expected to periodically confirm that their employees are in good working order and are using these products appropriately.
Nearly any form of work environment can contain potentially hazardous materials that could expose employees to. Given that individuals working in laboratories typically work with chemicals and other potentially harmful agents, the requirements of COSHH must be met.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) refers to any form of safety equipment which employees may wear while working with hazardous substances. Different PPE will be needed according to the operation or mission.
A chemical fume hood, also called a laboratory fume hood, is one type of engineering control that is used to reduce laboratory workers ‘ exposure to potential hazards, such as flammable and/or toxic chemical agents. A ducted fume hood or a ductless fume hood are the two main types of fume hoods used in any laboratory.
Regardless of the type of chemical fume hood used, the air is pulled out of the room and poured into the cash, which separates the hood’s internal compartment from the outside work area. As air is pulled into the hood, it enters the centre and pushes out into the exhaust area any harmful gases, vapours and fumes that may all be released from the chemicals being handled in the hood.
The exhaust area can have multiple slots and baffles depending on the type of chemical fume hood being used, allowing the breathing air to make its way into the associated ductwork or fume hood filters. It will gradually be released into the atmosphere as air leaves the ducted fume hood, while ductless fume hoods will filter the gathered air and then recirculate this back into the room where the hood is housed.