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Selecting the Right Enclosure for Your Laboratory

Vented or ductless enclosures are some of the most important tools in the laboratory for controlling exposure.

In this article, we’re going to teach you how to select the right enclosure for your laboratory, using expertise from our consulting safety officers.

Selecting the appropriate enclosure for the work being conducted is extremely important for employee safety and is a task that requires more review and assessment than one might initially think.

There are many types of enclosures available, including ventilated balance enclosures (VBEs), glove boxes, downdraft tables, and ductless fume hoods.

First and foremost, you must take into consideration the hazards of the material being used.

  • Is it a potent compound?
  • Is it an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API)?
  • Maybe it’s simply a particularly hazardous stock chemical?

The first step in the selection process is to review the safety data sheets (SDS) or other safety information documents available for the material being used to determine the hazards involved.

Vendors can also be an excellent resource when it comes to selecting the appropriate enclosure as they typically welcome the chance to review the hazard information on the materials you are using to point you in the right direction.

While vendors have a lot of experience and have “seen everything,” you should also conduct your own research into the enclosure they have suggested.

The next question to ask yourself is: Is there containment data?

It could be that the enclosure is appropriate for the material used, but the containment data is close to the exposure threshold. You probably do not want to purchase an enclosure that is at the limits of containment for that material.

There are other, less intuitive things to consider too, like ergonomics. How is this enclosure being used? Perhaps the design needs to be customized to ensure the scientists are comfortable during use.

Once you have decided on the appropriate enclosure, there’s still more work to be done!

Next Steps

  1. You should conduct a job safety analysis (JSA) to review the workflow of the scientists using the enclosure. There’s always the possibility that someone may misuse the enclosure or conduct his or her work in a way that makes it less effective.
  2. A proper assessment of the workflow is important in order to be able to communicate to the users the proper techniques for safely completing their tasks as well as the limitations of the enclosure.
  3. It’s at this point that you can also evaluate whether additional engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE) are needed.
  4. You should conduct exposure monitoring to confirm that the enclosure is working as anticipated. Sampling can help identify potential issues with the enclosure, or how it is being used, and it can also provide evidence that the system is working.

Sampling Plan

Finally, if there are lingering issues, sampling can assist with evaluating the process to determine if there are specific steps in the work practices that are leading to exposure.

A well thought out sampling plan is important! Try to capture user and time variability and identify exactly what you are sampling for, what steps in the process you are evaluating, and what you plan to extrapolate from the data.

Having sampling data as proof that the enclosure is effectively controlling employee exposure provides great peace of mind to all the users and confirms that the enclosure selection process was a success!

This blog was written by Sara Evarts, one of our Consulting Safety Officers who has been with us for 2 years.

For additional information on selecting the right enclosure for your facility’s operations, or for assistance with exposure monitoring to confirm the effectiveness of your enclosures, please email [email protected].

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