Error #4 – Inaccurate Inventory Lists of What Chemicals Are On Site
Can you imagine a hospital where the staff didn’t know how many patients were on site or what medical needs they had? This seems obviously problematic, and it flies in the face of safety regulations. This is precisely what is happening in some research labs across the country – chemicals are entering the facility and there is no list of every chemical, quantity, location and hazard issue! Shocking, I know, but it happens more often than we would like. This is a major problem if the chemicals are regulated, and in today’s world, many of them are. In terms of fire code compliance, these labs will be in a world of hurt come audit day. This is the fourth post in a series about the top eight chemical management errors.
A few months ago, Lab Manager Magazine hosted a best practices chemical inventory webinar for lab managers and EH&S professionals. Our very own Jon Webb from ChemSW talked us through the common errors in lab management and solutions to save the lab much-needed resources. Here is #4.
What Chemicals Are On Site?
In the webinar, Jon Webb shares a story about one troubled lab manager who was searching for a better way. The inventory status quo in the lab was a paper spreadsheet in a folder tacked to the door of the lab. The procedure was that each department would update the spreadsheet once per year. The manager knew that inventory checks were time-consuming and only wanted to ask researchers to do so once per year. Of course, the spreadsheets were out of date practically immediately, and the rest of the year, they could only guess about what inventory was on site! There’s a big red flag here!
What’s Wrong with This Picture?
Let’s see if we can name all the issues that this inventory system was causing for the lab. Inaccurate information about what chemicals are on site can come back to bite us in many ways. Worst-case scenario, there is an emergency such as a fire. In this case, the lab employees are not as safe as regulations require because safety information for all chemicals is not readily available in an emergency. The emergency responders will also have the same issue when they arrive on the scene.
Next, if the inventory list is incomplete, the first responders might not even be able to risk entering the facility, so the whole lab could burn to the ground. The facility will be responsible for costs, as insurance won’t cover damages if the inventory was not in compliance.
So barring a disaster, what else could go wrong? There’s this really important concept in any business called operations management and the related term operational costs. Researchers are highly paid specialists, and it distracts from their productive and highly skilled work if they have to do simple tasks like inventory receiving. This means they are losing time to do research, and for this reason, we might see incomplete inventory lists with minimal or missing data. It’s important to have an atmosphere of trust to hear employee complaints and ideas. We have heard really great safety solutions from people who actually work on the bench.
Without a real-time inventory list, we also cannot optimize our chemicals, equipment and materials to their greatest potential. Labs can save money by keeping as little inventory on hand as possible, using it all before it expires, and storing it in compliance with regulations.
What Is The Answer?
A best practices chemical management system will give you an accurate, real-time inventory list. If you want to know how much acetone is on-site – boom, you can find out how much, where it is and when it expires. The key factor is bar code technology that lets users scan the container and let the program know when a product is moved or used. The system is given a gatekeeper who makes sure everything that enters the site is bar coded. This keeps the inventory all on one list and also frees up the researchers for research!
This is one more chemical management error that we want you to avoid. ChemSW has the industry best in breed software programs for inventory management, so please check out CISPro™ and Safety Inspection Live™ to banish inaccurate inventory lists forever!