Help Ensure Laboratory Fire Safety Compliance with a Chemical Inventory Management System

Fire Code Reporting, Lab Safety

Earlier this year, a chemistry experiment in a Manhattan high school classroom went horribly wrong. The experiment, known as the Rainbow, uses methanol as an accelerant to burn dishes of various minerals. However, during this particular incident, it appears that flammable vapors from the methane were dispersed throughout the room and an unfortunate spark led to the vapors catching fire and harming two students.

laboratory fire safety
Implementing proper fire safety procedures can ensure that employees and the surrounding community are kept safe when accidents occur.
Image source: Flickr user PEO ACWA

Whether in a classroom setting or in an industrial business, flammable chemicals can be dangerous if they are not handled properly. What follows are a few of the basic rules regarding laboratory fire safety that should be observed to ensure the safety of employees and the surrounding community:

  • Ventilation Rules – There is an old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is particularly applicable to laboratory fire safety rules. When handling flammable chemicals in the laboratory, it is far better to prevent problems than only take notice when forced to react to them. One way to prevent fires from occurring is to ensure that ventilation hoods are installed properly and in working condition. A well-functioning ventilation hood will help ensure that flammable vapors are removed from the environment before they can cause harm.
  • Safety Gear – Another common saying is “safety first.” Safety gear such as fire extinguishers, eye protection and even lab coats can help to protect the safety of lab personnel when handling flammable chemicals.
  • Limited Quantities – When it comes to storing hazardous chemicals, the basic rule of thumb should be “take only what you need.” Keeping unnecessary amounts of chemicals on hand creates unnecessary risk. In fact, regulators have identified particular flammable chemicals and determined that laboratories can only store limited quantities on site. These rules are designed to ensure the safety of both laboratory personnel, as well as the local community.
  • Regulatory Reports –As is also said, “knowledge is power,” and this is certainly true regarding laboratory fire safety. It is important that laboratory managers remain up-to-date regarding the chemicals stored in a laboratory and have a tracking system established to help ensure that they are being handled appropriately. Regulators have also recognized the value of this information and requested that laboratories storing certain types of chemicals file annual reports notifying the public of these items. These include both the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting and the Tier II Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act forms.

Preventing laboratory fires is possible, but it does take time and dedicated effort, particularly in regard to tracking quantities and filing regulatory reports. For those labs that consider these requirements challenging, perhaps it would make sense to consider a solution – a chemical inventory management system.

The benefits of a chemical inventory management system include the ability to track the type of chemical and on-hand quantity for each substance stored within the laboratory. This is done through a barcoding system that labels and tracks chemicals upon arrival to when they are depleted or discarded. This information feeds into the reporting module of the chemical inventory management system and can be used to generate TRI reports and Tier II reports.

Implementing the suggestions above will help reduce the occurrence of fires within the laboratory, as well as help first responders control the amount of damage if a fire does occur. In addition, Accelrys CISPro provides an easy way to monitor both the on-hand quantities of chemicals, as well as reduce the cost of compliance reporting. For more information regarding this system, please visit our website.

3 thoughts on “Help Ensure Laboratory Fire Safety Compliance with a Chemical Inventory Management System

  1. When you deal with highly volatile chemicals it really important to place to high standard on safety, a risk from fire is very important t protect against.

  2. Something similar happened in my high school about 20 years ago, so I guess this is not a new problem. I believe it was a ventilation issue as the article points out. Good to see this kind of exposure given to this topic because apparantly it still goes on today. These kind of inventory management systems will hopefully be required tools one day in our schools.

  3. Although the tool will not fix any ventilation issues, it could help ensure chemical safety in schools.

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