What to Do When Your Chemical Inventory Log Doesn’t Match What’s in the Flammables Cabinet
In a perfect world, chemical inventory management is as simple as scanning a bottle at the loading dock and scanning it once it’s been used up. Any EHS manager or lab supervisor will quickly realize that this is almost never the case. Discrepancies arise in even the most stringent chemical inventory management programs. Bottles slip past the dock, get moved from bench to bench, or get tossed without any inventory action.
Dealing with these discrepancies can be stressful if you’re unsure of how to handle them quickly and efficiently. Here are some tips for making sure your company and employees stay out of hot water when addressing discrepancies between your chemical inventory log and your physical stock of chemicals.
When Using a Manual Input System
When using your own manual input system (consisting of Excel spreadsheets, for example), it’s important stay on top of it so the system and what’s on the shelves line up. Receiving and disposing any amount of chemicals daily can cause issues with this manual process. Network drives are useful in situations where you don’t have much editing to do in the spreadsheet, but it will be frustrating the first time someone locks the document and you can’t get in. Online file sharing systems can help, allowing access to the inventory from basically anywhere.
If you’re creating an in-house chemical inventory spreadsheet, it’s important to document your steps and the process while you’re setting it up. There is a chance the creator could leave the company or change positions and leave you with a system that doesn’t make sense. You’ll need to be able to train new users and maintain the document going forward; otherwise you’re back to square one.
A good spreadsheet setup compensates for discrepancies between physical and logged inventory with a separate sheet that contains “stragglers” or bottles that aren’t on previous iterations of the spreadsheet. You can then periodically go through both sheets and reconcile the data. It is labor intensive, but it works. The main factors in minimizing discrepancies are your ability to log bottles coming and going, and the frequency of reconciliations. The timing for reconciliations varies with lab activity but may be necessary as often as every other week with a manual chemical inventory management system.
Please read our Running an Efficient Chemical Reconciliation to Maintain an Accurate Chemical Inventory post for more details on reconciling your data.
When Using Chemical Inventory Software
Dedicated software programs for managing your chemical inventory will vary greatly in dealing with discrepancies between logged and physical inventory. Most will have a function for the purpose of managing discrepancies, and the usefulness of these functions can vary. You want a system that can work through your entire chemical inventory quickly and efficiently.
Keep in mind network connectivity. Some programs only work online, and we’ve seen programs that require users to run back and forth between their chemical storage area and their office. You can imagine that added a lot of time and effort to their job and increased the likelihood that discrepancies were missed. If your site has fantastic Wi-Fi service, this might not be an issue. Chances are there are areas in your facility that don’t have good signal, and a software program that can store data offline can be a huge asset.
Mobility is also important for chemical inventory reconciliation projects. A laptop can work if your chemicals aren’t spread out in your facility, and is the best option if the program only has a desktop version. Some programs include mobile apps that can be downloaded to an iOS or Android device and allow ease of movement across a site. Even better, there are integrated devices with scanners, so you can use the device with one hand and move chemicals with the other.
Please read our Choosing the Right Chemical Inventory Software for You post to see what system might work for your organization.
The Human Element
At the end of the day, the most important piece of the puzzle is your people. No matter what system you deploy or what features are involved, there is always a human element. You need a foolproof process for managing the chemical inventory, and you need to have the right people building and executing that process.
Training and upkeep are tough parts of the system, but crucial if you want it to work. Once you have the human part figured out and the process laid out, the discrepancies will be minimized. There will be a plan for keeping them down and dealing with them when they come up. There are software and programs that work and don’t work, but your chemical inventory management success begins and continues with your people.
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