Clear the Clutter by Harry J. Oster

Happy Spring! With the coldest days of Winter behind us (we hope!), the beginning of Spring offers a terrific opportunity to “Clear the Clutter” from your laboratory and neighboring corridors. Doing so will help ensure these areas are safe and code-compliant.
The New York City Fire Code addresses clutter and storage issues in several ways, including:
Storage in buildings - Storage of combustible materials in buildings shall be orderly. Storage areas shall be separated from heaters or heating devices by distance or shielding so that ignition cannot occur.
Ceiling clearance - Storage shall be maintained 2 feet (610 mm) or more below the ceiling in areas of buildings not protected by a sprinkler system, or a minimum of 18 inches (457 mm) below sprinkler head deflectors in areas protected by a sprinkler system. Figure 1. illustrates a violation of this requirement; the cardboard boxes do not allow the required 18” of clearance below the sprinkler head.


Figure 1

Means of egress - Combustible materials shall not be stored in a manner that obstructs egress from any building, structure or premises. The New York City Building Code also informs us that the minimum corridor width shall not be less than 44 inches, except in a room, such as a laboratory, with an occupant capacity of 50 persons or less, where 36 inch clearance is allowed. Figure 2. illustrates a violation of this requirement.

In closing, Spring is a great time to take a fresh look within our laboratories, neighboring corridors and storage areas to “Clear the Clutter.”
For assistance in discarding clutter items, contact Facilities Management. For consultation about laboratory fire safety concerns, contact


Figure 2

Chemical Fume Hood Safe Work Practices by Muhammad Akram

A chemical fume hood (CFH) is an invaluable laboratory engineering control. Often referred to as a “first line of defense” against exposure to hazardous materials, CFHs are designed to minimize or eliminate exposure to hazardous materials by directing gases and vapors away from the user’s breathing zone and providing a physical barrier between the user and their processes. CFHs have limitations and are only as effective as those who use them are in following basic use principles. To provide the highest level of protection, CFH users must employ, at a minimum, the following work practices:

  • Avoid placing your upper body in the fume hood except during initial setup of equipment and before any hazardous materials have been placed inside the hood.
  • Avoid using the fume hood for permanent storage of equipment or materials.
  • Maintain sash height at 12” when using the fume hood; never open the sash greater than 18”; a wide open sash lowers the face velocity and capture effectiveness of the hood, and removes the physical barrier provided by the sash.
  • Place hazardous materials at least 6” inside the hood for proper containment of airborne chemical hazards.
  • Raise large equipment items inside the hood 3” - 4” off of the work surface to prevent blocking the airflow through the baffles at the back of work surface .
  • Keep the hood sash at the lowest level possible for greater safety and to conserve energy when not in use.
  • Do not remove the hood sash or panels, except for initial experimental setup and before hazardous chemicals are placed in the hood.

CFHs are certified annually and marked with a sticker noting the date of certification, face velocity measurement and height at which the CFH is certified for use. Any CFH that fails its annual certification due to its face velocity being outside of the acceptable 80-120 ft. per minute flow rate range, is taken out of service and posted with a restricted use notice by EH&S, until repaired by Facilities Management.
Note, ductless fume hoods do not provide the same level of protection as a traditional ducted fume hood and are not permitted for use at Columbia University, or by the New York City Fire Department.

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