Surviving an EH&S Audit: Digital Chemical Inventory Management to the Rescue!

Digital Solutions

Chemicals in cabinet
A digital chemical inventory management system can help you navigate an EH&S audit with ease.
Image source: By André Luis Carvalho; Leandro Maranghetti Lourenço via Wikimedia Commons

When I worked in a basic science lab, we were forced to take a complete inventory of the chemicals in our lab every year. This was never a voluntary move on our part; it was more of an administrative expectation for our annual Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) audit, complete with strong-arm methods. The inventory would easily take a full week to finish. It didn’t have to be awful, but it was…year after year.

So what did our EH&S audit preparation process look like? One person would grab a bottle, read the label, maybe check to see if it was empty, and then move on to the next bottle. The person writing the inventory would record the chemical name and location. Repeat 200 times. Unless something was obviously expired with goop running down the side, we would put it back on the shelf. In hindsight, we really missed out on a great opportunity to collect information that could benefit the lab in terms of safety and use tracking. But let’s be honest: when you’re sitting there with a pencil and notepad you’re just trying to get through it and be done already.

Does this situation sound familiar? Do you experience the same overwhelming feelings of dread and anxiety when you think about an EH&S audit? Then perhaps it’s time to look into a digital chemical inventory management system. Most EH&S audits require an updated chemical inventory list, a current SDS collection, submission of regulatory forms and removal of expired chemicals and waste. A digital chemical inventory management system can help streamline the entire process and enable your lab to survive an EH&S audit with a lot less stress.

Have an up-to-date list
Instead of wasting precious time and energy trying to catalogue every single chemical in a week’s worth of all-nighters, you could keep a running digital catalogue of your inventory. On the surface, it sounds like that means constantly updating the digital inventory. But Accelrys CISPro makes it as simple as placing a barcode on the container, scanning it and storing it away. Then any time a lab member uses the chemical, they scan it and enter the amount used. This system also helps alleviate those situations in which certain colleagues return empty containers to the shelf. When a chemical is low, the system can send an alert to order more.

Safety Data Sheets are always updated and available
I always thought SDS’s were useless until the day I needed one. While working with inventory at a pool chemical supply company, I accidentally inhaled some fumes from a bucket of chlorine tabs and immediately couldn’t breathe. My coworker ran around looking for the SDS, which we typically threw them away with the delivery. Fifteen minutes later he finally found it- just as my breathing was returning to normal. Fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity as I was sitting there wondering if we should just call EMS or wait it out. Don’t take risks in your lab by not keeping a record of all current chemicals. Accelrys CISPro can simplify the process for you by automatically linking SDS’s to your chemicals, and providing a simple location for quick retrieval.

No more expired chemicals hanging around
I’m not sure how he transported them, but my boss had a stock of chemicals from his graduate training that he would not part with. I’m pretty sure his was an emotional attachment, as I could not convince him to throw any of it away, even though the metal lids were rusting off and it was pretty clear that these chemicals were expired and useless. I argued with him until I was blue in the face, but he was having none of it. Having had this experience, the benefit of tracking a chemical’s shelf life is a huge selling point for me. With a digital CIMS, you can monitor expiration dates and shelf lives so that potentially unsafe and useless chemicals can be discarded when you’re alerted. The best part – your sentimental boss can’t argue with the computer data.

Big Brother is watching you
I remember the first time our EH&S officer came up to me with a list of “chemicals of interest”, designated as those to be monitored by the Department of Homeland Security. Of course, I was annoyed that we had yet another layer of administrative work to keep EH&S happy. But, I’m a patriot, so I eventually conceded. The DHS monitoring is just one government-mandated monitoring system that CISPro can help automate for your lab. The platform includes automatic flagging of chemicals for regulated chemicals monitored by SARA, Tier II, OSHA, DHS, and EPA.

In my opinion, a digital chemical inventory management system is probably one of the best uses of technology ever to become available to research labs. Okay, electricity was a pretty significant game changer, but since none of us lived pre-electricity, I’m going with a digital chemical inventory management.

If you’re tired of keeping a hand-written inventory sheet (complete with incidental chicken-scratch stoichiometry notes in the margins) it’s time to visit Accelrys. Our experienced representatives can help determine which CISPro system will serve your lab best.

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