In the past decade, I have given numerous workshops, training sessions, and conference talks on fume hood safety. A common question is “where can we learn more about fume hoods?” A question I have not really had a good answer for. If you search the internet, you will most likely find only one fume hood book written by G. Thomas Saunders, “Laboratory Fume Hoods: A User’s Manual” in 1993.
Given the number of books in print, you might wonder why it is has been over 25 years and nothing new has been written about fume hoods, even though ventilation technology and the marketplace have undergone significant changes. For the last 20 years, I have said that someone needs to write a comprehensive reference book about fume hoods. I started many times to try and write that book, but issues of the moment always pulled me away.
Extensive world travel over the past decade has exposed me to a global perspective that I did not have earlier. I saw how much of the world keeps focusing on the fume hood like it is a standalone device, a product that functions without considering the rest of the laboratory ventilation system. A more holistic view of what really makes a fume hood work safely was missing.
I witnessed countless users working with unsafe fume hoods, yet many were unaware of the fact that the fume hood was not performing safely. The more workshops, presentations, and training sessions I did, the more I understood the problem. It is a legacy problem that involves a dysfunctional relationship between those who design, manufacture, and sell fume hoods from those who design and engineer the mechanical ventilation systems that are necessary for the fume hood to function safely. The fume hood is not furniture, it is a mechanical device that is a component of the overall Laboratory Ventilation System.
When you look for experts that really understand fume hoods and laboratory ventilation systems, they are few and far between, and most of them are either employed by a fume hood company or a ventilation controls company. When a hood manufacturer wants to sell a fume hood, they want to talk about it like it is a product that works alone and is not dependent on the other mechanical systems. Yet they are the first to say that the fume hood only works “when connected to a properly designed and maintained ventilation system”.
The best fume hood in the world does nothing until it is connected to a laboratory ventilation system. The best fume hood in the world will not perform safely unless the laboratory ventilation system is well designed and maintained.
Just focusing on fume hoods is only part of the story. Without a more holistic view, it leaves most of the story untold. If you want the truth and the whole truth, you must look at everything that impacts performance including the user.
Much like a three-legged stool, this story has three legs: there is the fume hood, the ventilation system, and the user. Just as the stool isn’t stable unless all three legs are even, the fume hood will not perform safely unless equal attention is given to all three components.
So back to motivation; if a fume hood is going to fulfill its primary objective, to prevent the user from being exposed to potentially harmful fugitive chemicals, you have to take a holistic view of the subject matter. If this was an industry priority new books would have been written over the years on a regular basis. The lack of books says to me that there is a lack of priority from those involved.
Having been on the fume hood manufacturing side for 30 years, I clearly understand this point of view. Now working more with users for the last 10 years I have become more of a user advocate. I am not sure many share my point of view since the primary objective is to sell more fume hoods. It became clear that it was going to take an independent point of view to put this all into context. As one of the few independent fume hood experts, it became clear that if there was going to be a meaningful effort to share the whole story with all the stakeholders, that I was probably going to have to write the book. Given my extensive travel schedule in 2019 and the number of workshops and presentations I was having to plan for, I realized that I already had a good start on writing this book. When 2020 came around and COVID changed all our plans, I suddenly had the time to devote to finishing the book that I had started many times before. Now it is finally out there to read. I hope that at the least this starts a conversation about user safety as it relates to laboratory ventilation