Experiencing Difficulty Managing Chemical Safety? Simplify with a Chemical Inventory Management System

Moving chemical containers
Federal and local laws govern hazardous chemical storage.
Image source: U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity via Wikimedia Commons

Chemical safety should receive more attention than it does in the laboratory setting. Though we deal with many hazardous chemicals, it can be easy for scientists to forget their dangers when we’re using them on a daily basis. Sometimes we become desensitized to their danger and perhaps we were never properly trained on how to handle certain chemicals.

One personal example that sticks out in my memory is of my early days in the lab. A colleague and I were doing an extraction with ether. This was one of those experiments where our boss just told us to try an experiment without any real planning…we liked to call them “side projects.” The phrase “side project” is one of the biggest misnomers in research, as they always end up taking entirely more time than you planned. Because we expected this to be a quick experiment, we didn’t do a whole lot of planning. After taking some quick notes on the protocol straight from my boss’s memory, we went to work. A few hours in, another professor from down the hall came into the lab, clearly upset, and asked us what were doing. In short, ether is highly flammable, a severe irritant, and tends to accumulate in low areas.  It should always be used in a chemical hood. We were using a hood… sort of. Unbeknownst to us, the vapors had traveled down the hallway and the entire floor reeked of ether. I won’t divulge the extent of our embarrassing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Fortunately, there is no exciting end to this story. Basically, we just cleaned up what we could and tried to contain what was left. That night, I had nightmares that the entire building burned down because of our poor handling of a very flammable chemical.

chemical lab
Make sure your employees know how to handle hazardous chemicals with digital SDS management.
Image source: Sergey Venyavsky via Wikimedia Commons

So who is responsible for the poor handling of chemicals in this situation? Of course, we were at a point in our careers where we should have researched how to properly handle ether. But when my boss, who used to anesthetize animals by holding an ether-doused rag over their face, described the procedure, I didn’t question his authority. I think this story goes to show that there can often be a lack of proper chemical safety training for employees, and it’s high time firms make sure that, anytime chemicals are involved, they are taking all the necessary steps in ensuring the safety of everyone.

The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) has addressed the need for informing workers of hazards associated with their jobs with an updated Hazard Communication Standard. This aims to improve the former “right-to-know” concept by implementing a “right-to-understand” concept, based on the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). A key endpoint of GHS is to provide a system in which all nations can participate to harmonize hazard communication elements of chemicals, such as labels and safety data sheets.

Unlabeled bottles
Standardized chemical labeling is a component of new global regulations.
Image source: Tahoenathan via Wikimedia Commons

As the international community embraces the provisions set forth by GHS, firms may be interested in how to best uphold the regulations and improve employee chemical safety training. The maintenance of a comprehensive chemical inventory not only keeps your employees knowledgeable about what is on hand, but can also help protect first responders who may need to enter a building containing hazardous chemicals. Your firm can improve chemical safety by implementing a digital chemical inventory management system, like Accelrys CISPro. Our system offers the ability to track chemicals from acquisition to disposal, enabling your lab to maintain accurate quantity records of hazardous items. Automatic comparison of on-site inventory with defined hazard and regulatory criteria makes it simple to maintain regulatory compliance. The system also offers digital management of safety data sheets (SDS) so that your employees can research how to handle dangerous chemicals, and first responders will have chemical information available in the event of an emergency.

Pres Obama signs executive order
In August 2013, President Obama signed an Executive Order to improve chemical facility safety and security.
Image source: Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons

Consider giving your employees a digital tool to stay on track with chemical hazards classification. Visit our website if you would like to learn more about how Accelrys CISPro can help your firm improve chemical safety.

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