University of Calgary

Breathing easy

UToday HomeJanuary 31, 2013

Project manager Rhonda Clark stands by one of the new fume hoods installed in the Biological Sciences labs at the University of Calgary. Photo by Riley BrandtProject manager Rhonda Clark stands by one of the new fume hoods installed in the Biological Sciences labs at the University of Calgary. Photo by Riley BrandtRhonda Clark and the team of researchers in Petroleum Microbiology can breathe a little easier and work more comfortably with the installation of advanced fume hoods over the past few months.

Clark and her colleagues began working with the new fume hoods in fall 2012. The enclosed units — where researchers work with oil samples and various chemicals — are also equipped with a bench for proper storage and ventilation of flammable materials and acids.

“From a working perspective, the fume hoods are easier to access. You can get up closer and you have better ergonomics,” says Clark. “It has made our work space safer.”

Many oil and gas companies — some of which provide research funding — require contractors to use equipment that conforms to current environmental and safety standards. The hoods still vent into the atmosphere, but are more energy efficient and meet stringent internationally recognized testing requirements for ventilation safety.

“More and more of these companies want workspace audits before they can sign a contract with us,” says Clark. “They want to make sure the university has good safety practices in place.”

Rae Ann Aldridge, director of Environment Health and Safety (EHS), said the replacement of outdated fume hoods is an ongoing initiative between her department and the Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) team.

Several years ago, EHS identified the need for new fume hoods, which have a theoretical life cycle of 30 years. According to Mike Rogers, director of Capital Renewal for IMP, some of the hoods were original to the Science B and Biological Sciences buildings, making them 35 to 40 years old.

“We’ve been on the front end identifying hoods that have surpassed their life cycle,” says Aldridge. Fume hoods that were original to those buildings “are the priority.”

“It was a long-standing issue,” says Rogers.

Aldridge says 28 units have been replaced so far, and she hopes that number will double in the next fiscal year.

“They are a critical piece of personal safety in these lab situations,” says Rogers.

The first units, which cost around $33,000 each, arrived in spring 2012 and the second shipment came in the fall.

“Our leadership is supportive of the program and has allocated the funds,” says Rogers. “They are waiting for us to fully develop the program, so they can better understand the needs.”

Rogers is pleased with how the project has gone. “I have to give my good friends in health and safety a lot of credit. They brought this forward and have been extremely helpful.”