Error #5 – Tracking Chemicals Manually with Paper Spreadsheets


How many paper spreadsheets does it take to generate an inventory list in a research facility? Trick question, we only want one real-time inventory list and it shouldn’t be on paper! We are in the 21st century and best practices dictate that we take advantage of computer and bar code technology for chemical inventory management. This is the fifth 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 #5.

Paper was a marvelous invention and our civilization would not be where it is today without it. And then, with the printing press, words could reach an unlimited audience and the world saw a blossoming literacy! The incredible ability to communicate in writing moved scientific discoveries across continents. Galileo first wrote down his observation of moons around Jupiter and spurred the paradigm shift that not all celestial bodies revolved around Earth. You can see his original observation recorded on a note below.


And then – computers and bar coding, calculators, the Internet, Wi-Fi, and 4G Internet everywhere. The last century was a game changer, and now knowledge is more accessible than ever. Each time technology advanced, R&D advanced, and lab safety advanced.


What Are Best Practices for Lab Management Today?

Paper spreadsheets had their place in the lab in the past, but now, our best possible option for safety and efficiency ditches the old spreadsheet for more powerful software. Inventory management depends on real-time, accurate chemical inventory data. One such software solution is CISPro™ by ChemSW, which dovetails with chemical safety information, regulatory compliance, and reporting.

The best inventory software solves many problems that pop up in labs using paper spreadsheets. For example, researchers need to know what is on site and what the hazards are. This is a worker’s right according to OSHA’s Right to Know, and now the Right to Understand with the new GHS labeling system. In the webinar, Jon Webb recalls a visit to a lab where the basement housed shelf after shelf of binders labeled MSDS. He asked how the personnel without access to this floor could find the safety information. The response, they couldn’t. This is out of compliance with OSHA. Paper is wonderful, but when we’re talking about tracking chemicals, software makes the lab safer and more efficient.

If there is an emergency, researchers and emergency responders need to know what is on site and what the hazards are. In fact, labs are supposed to send that type of hazardous inventory information to fire departments well ahead of an emergency. Paper spreadsheets are not keeping real-time lists, and in fact, we’ve seen labs where the paper inventory list was updated only once per year! The manager was wishing and hoping they would not be audited!

Chemical inventory management software will also enable turnkey regulatory reports. Try getting the old paper spreadsheet to create a fire code report for you!


Who Wants You to Keep Real-Time Inventory Lists?

Good chemical inventory lists put a smile on everyone’s face. The lab personnel will be safer and they will have the right chemicals in the right place at the right time. Emergency responders will be better off being equipped with life-saving information.


The people who manage operational costs will be able to save money by making sure that that chemicals are used before they expire. What a tragedy to have to send unused inventory to chemical waste! The lab with an accurate list will also fare much better in the event of an audit. ChemSW wants you to avoid this pitfall and join the best practices community with a reliable chemical inventory software solution.

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