Lab Management Error #2 – Not Being Able to Find Chemicals In Inventory Storage


Where did I leave my keys? This happens to me pretty often, and I suspect it happens to you too. Don’t worry, losing little things is a part of life. Losing big things, however, is where we run into trouble.

Working with hazardous chemicals is a great responsibility, and knowing where those chemicals are 24/7 is part of an EH&S professional’s and a lab manager’s responsibility. Security and privacy are very important to keep materials and information in good hands, but the whereabouts of hazardous chemicals shouldn’t be too private. What we don’t want to hear is, where did I leave my isopropyl ether?

The gurus of chemical inventory management repeat the mantra “the right chemical in the right place at the right time.” We need to know where everything is, how it is stored, and how much is there. This information is the life-blood of keeping down operational costs, optimizing workflow, and maintaining fire code compliance and reporting. This is the second post in a series about the top eight chemical management errors.

Earlier this year, Lab Manager Magazine hosted a best practices chemical inventory webinar for lab managers and EH&S professionals. The presenter, our very own Jon Webb from ChemSW, talked us through the common errors in lab management and solutions to save the lab precious resources. The first error we examined was over-ordering chemicals. Here is error #2 – not being able to find chemicals that you know are in inventory.


Where Did I Put Those Chemicals Again?

The second common error in chemical inventory management is not being able to find chemicals. You think you have a container in stock, but where is it? This is related to the first error of over-ordering chemicals. People reorder what they can’t find, but the question of the day is why can’t researchers find chemicals?

This happens when there is no process in place for ordering and receiving chemicals. This is not magic, there are real solutions out there to track every single chemical you’ve got!

The best practice is finding a way to capture information about all materials the second they enter the building. If there is more than one process for receiving or tracking chemical supplies that enter the building, then it’s over. There is no standardization and no individual person can ever know what is on site. This leads to all sorts of problems, from not being able to find chemicals to not being in safety compliance.


Researchers Are Highly Skilled, So They Shouldn’t Do Simple Inventory Tasks

If researchers are accepting inventory orders, then there is another glaring issue – highly paid specialists are being paid to do simple inventory tasks. With higher priorities on their minds, we might see inventory reports with bare bones information. There could be minimal data entry or none at all. This is compounded if the facilities are still using paper spreadsheets. These lists might have been great in 1860, but nowadays they leave us wanting. Those pesky lists may only be updated once a year, and as soon as an inventory walk-through is finished, it is out of date as soon as someone uses a chemical.


Not being able to find chemicals is major problem if they are highly expensive, hazardous or regulated. It can add up to extra operational costs to constantly react to situations of not being able to find chemicals and reordering with rush delivery. We’ve seen penalties applied to facilities that do not report all of their hazardous chemicals accurately.

Fire codes and other safety regulations are there to help everyone, including the lab workers, emergency responders, community members and the environment. Accurate inventory reporting is a huge piece of the pie, and there are often updates and changes to the rules. With a new bill to reform the toxic chemicals act in the senate and ongoing changes being made to regulatory codes, it is important to have a real-time, accurate system for inventory storage compliance. If you see any of these problems in the lab, feel free to contact us for more information on how to whip the lab into shape.

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