Finding an Unlabeled Chemical Container Spells Danger for the Lab, GHS Comes to the Rescue

Chem Industry News


Have you ever found a large bottle of clear liquid hidden away in a storage cabinet? This is all too common in facilities that we’ve visited. When the unlabeled container surfaces, there is the age-old question – what’s in the bottle? There are safe ways to find out, such as having a HazMat team check the contents. And there are unsafe ways to check, such as opening the bottle and taking a swig (never eat or drink in the lab!).

There are many things that should be labeled in life – driving would be much deadlier without street signs, such as “one-way” and “do-not-enter”! Shopping for wholesome food would be impossible without ingredient lists and nutrition information. The same thing applies in the lab as in life. It’s important to communicate information and especially hazards.

So, how did this unlabeled container of clear liquid even get there in the first place? Someone at some point probably knew the contents, and they assumed they would be around forever to keep track of the container. As we see far too often, it doesn’t always work out that way, and others are stuck with the cleanup. Best practices dictate that all chemical containers are labeled, ideally with a bar code that integrates with a robust software system. Not only is it a best practice, it is also part of OSHA workplace health and safety regulations. OSHA’s EPCRA regulations state that employees have a “right to know” what they are working with at their place of employment. Current mandatory labels name the chemical and complementary info.

However, the buck doesn’t stop there. OSHA realized that the “right to know” is different from the “right to understand.” To remedy this issue, there is a new initiative launching soon called GHS – Globally Harmonized System – which is a new system of classification and labeling. GHS is rolling out in 2015, but first there is a deadline for employee training.


This new GHS program has a few bonus features. First, it is an internationally standardized system, so facilities and employees worldwide can communicate about chemicals using the same classification language. Also, the GHS comes with lots of pictures – this is part of the “right to understand.” Each image depicts a different hazard, and they run the gamut from depicting a dead fish to a skull and cross bones.

If the unlabeled container in the lab had displayed a skull and crossbones, we could have all guessed that the chemical is acutely, severely toxic. Or, if there had been an image of a flame, it would have been pretty clear that the contents were flammable. Not all of the images are that easy to guess, which is why employee training on this system is so critical.


Once the chemical information is known, then it is time to make sure the right chemical is in the right place at the right time. This is where a best practices chemical inventory management system comes into play. Lab managers want their lab to be safe, to be in regulatory compliance and to be a productive environment for the researchers.

ChemSW has several software solutions to help achieve these goals. Our inventory management and tracking software, CISPro™, uses bar code technology and hand-held devices to keep real-time inventory lists. And if you have a literal ton of inventory, our Rapid Loader™ can get your facility up and running our software quickly. Please visit our site to find out more about our solutions for your company.

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