Benjamin Payne (ETM): The Fumes of Success at the Environmental Health and Safety Department

It’s just a normal Friday and I bike from my residence hall to the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department. The EHS consists of many divisions, ranging from radiation safety, biosafety, stormwater, to lab safety, and manages the thousands of labs on campus and ensures that people work safely within them. I have had the fantastic opportunity of interning in the lab safety section, for more than a year. The main focus of my job was assisting in the fume hood program. A fume hood is a large enclosed box with a sash that opens and closes. It pulls air from the room, and out an exhaust vent allowing people to conduct experiments without the fear of inhaling toxic fumes. As a research-oriented university, NC State has countless labs, and consequently more than a thousand fume hoods. That’s where my job starts.

As I walk into the office, I meet with my boss, Mahdi Fahim, to discuss of plan of action for that day. With my marching orders received, I grab a donut and head to my desk. I gather the items needed to conduct an inspection: safety glasses, lab coat, anemometer, smoke testing device, pens, and a clipboard. Next, I drive to Administrative Services Building III, just across the street, to get keys to the building I am visiting.

Today, I will visit Williams Hall, home of the soil science department. I head to the basement and begin with the first room. It is important to remember when entering a laboratory to be vigilant, because there could be experiments going on, or hazardous chemicals to avoid. After setting my equipment down, I begin by checking to see if the fume hood has the correct face velocity. Using the anemometer, I sample data from an even number of points along the open face of the hood. When the sampling data is averaged, it should read within the range of 90-120 cubic feet of air per minute. There are four different types of stickers that can go on a fume hood when testing is complete. Green means the hood is approved for normal use, yellow means limited use, red means no use, and blue mean the hood is using too much energy and needs to be adjusted.

Each fume hood should have an alarm so the next thing I do is make sure that it is functioning properly. The alarm should sound when the face velocity is below the university standard, indicating the user is at risk. Once the alarm is checked, the final thing to do is make sure that the room pressure is negative. Using the smoke testing device, I ensure that the smoke flows into the room from the hallway, which is important in the case of a chemical spill in the lab; we don’t want fumes to leave the room. Finally, I write all the data down for this room and move on to the next lab. After the day is done I head back to the office for data entry.

Driving back to the office, I drop off the building keys at Administrative Services Building III and check the truck back in. The fume hood data is the first priority, I enter it into a PDA in the industrial hygiene lab. This puts the new data into a database that all EHS employees can access. Next, I enter work orders, such as those fume hoods which were above or below the standard, any room’s pressures that were off, or alarms that are not functioning properly. Depending on the nature of the work order, they can be fixed with a couple of days to multiple weeks.

After a building is completed, the work orders that are fixed must be rechecked and entered back into the system. We follow a monthly fume hood schedule, with certain buildings done at certain times of the year. All buildings are checked at least once a year, and at the end of each year, we go back through the computer system and make sure we have not missed any fume hood.

Overall, I had a fantastic experience and have nothing but positive things to say about the people and the work environment. Before starting work at the EHS, I liked the idea of working in that field. Now that I have completed my internship, I am sure I want to pursue a job in the EHS field. My favorite part of the job was always being out and about on different parts of campus. With some internships you are stuck in the same place, but for my job I was always out somewhere new. I also enjoyed having responsibility, from driving a university truck to have access to any building on campus. However, the most important lesson I learned was the importance of accuracy in relation to data gathering and entry. The work I did never had to be rushed, but I was always told to do a perfect job. This mindset is valuable and will translate into my future EHS career.