How Chemical Inventory Data Powers Safety and Compliance
Even the best attempt to run a lab operation safely and efficiently—while relying on erroneous, incomplete, or contradictory chemical inventory data—is a recipe for potential disaster.
Falling into substandard auditing or review habits results in chemical inventory drift, errors, and, ultimately, regulatory and safety noncompliance. That can mean flunked inspections, fines, dangerous chemical events, and down time. The less accurate this inventory data, the more laboratory staff and management must rely on risky guesswork.
On the other hand, regular reviews and audits of the exact mix of chemicals, with appropriate cloud solutions, is a proven way of supporting a streamlined and safe lab culture. Accurate chemicals data, stored in a central repository and easily shareable, can power a variety of internal, cross-department environmental, health, and safety (EHS) programs.
View of Chemical Operations
An accurate chemical inventory also offers managers an accurate view into their laboratory operations on a rolling basis. This way they can determine what sorts of safety or other rules apply and how to meet specific regulatory thresholds. Additionally, access to accurate data in near real-time can streamline external chemical inventory audits from outside agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Harvesting lab chemical data requires time and effort. But an up-to-date and comprehensive inventory database will provide a reliable backbone to overall lab operations. The effort can reap dividends in financial and supply chain management improvements.
Chemical Inventory Knowledge Is Power
An EHS program should put chemical inventory auditing front and center. That’s because lab staff and management can repeatedly reuse this crucial data for a variety of applications, some which may not be initially apparent.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of a robust, current chemical inventory database. It can provide or enable:
- An accurate inventory snapshot: Regular audits or reviews of a chemical warehouse or storage closet ensure there is a single and reliable source of truth to work from. Grocery stores, for instance, do not require audits—but regular checks of inventory allow retail managers to review stock levels to detect what items are expired or need replenishment. This procedure can result in more successful procurement and supply chain operations.
- An audit-ready posture: Managers will always have the precise chemical data, reports, and documents at hand to provide to internal or third-party auditors. For instance, the local fire department may conduct a safety audit of the facility—including the chemical inventory. Or, inspectors may request information about lab chemicals to see if they are flammable or reactive. A facility with a readily accessible chemical inventory can easily share all relevant data to meet such needs, on the fly.
- Success in EHS programs/protocols: Chemical inventory data is crucial. Internally, it drives improvement and reporting and feeds into other lab EHS programs. It shapes how management handles hazard communications; personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and training; chemical exposure and emergency response standard operating procedures (SOPs); tier reporting protocols; and so on.
Chemical Inventory Done Right
There are some specific best practices that will enable success in auditing, as well as in data harvesting and analysis. These processes should be part of any successful lab’s operations. Let’s review a hypothetical portrait of one such well-operating facility:
- In this operation, lab staff routinely perform audits and reviews to regularly update the chemical inventory data—using only industry standard protocols, information-sharing technology and standards, and gear. This means team members scan every chemical barcode; add and replace barcodes; create or add chemical locations and sub-locations; and relocate the specific chemicals according to type or use, as needed.
- Audits and reviews involve only trained and certified team members. Team members are audit-ready, trained on the relevant SOPs that guide them according to best practices. All members understand their roles in the process and are thorough and conscientious. They regularly strive to make the data gathering and correction program as successful as possible.
- Review and audit team members are fully equipped for success. The staff have access to cloud-powered smart devices or tablets to assist them in data gathering. To reduce errors and streamline operations, the solutions automate the majority of the most manually intensive and routine functions.
- During the review/audit process, devices automatically upload inventory data into secure systems for storage or action, as needed. The teams easily input data into appropriate forms and share it with other relevant systems. Managers and staff members can quickly create reports and documents from readily accessible data, and share them throughout the lab and organization.
- There is a sole source of reliable chemical inventory truth. These processes, people, and gear completely replace the old process of loosely estimating the inventory and guessing what might be there. Workers detect expired materials and always have a realistic idea of what chemicals are most—or least—needed. They also immediately flag erroneous data and exceptions. Additionally, the staff notes problems and takes corrective actions immediately.
- Ultimately, by detecting expired or unused chemicals, audit teams drive successful chemical replenishment, logistics, and procurement processes. Data enables managers to make predictions about future usage trends and buying needs—they obtain only the right items at the right time, according to season or other variable demands. They also avoid carrying excess chemicals that will go unused.
- Proper supervision and accurate inventory data-driven processes prevent the organization from inventory drift and other irregularities. The facility passes external and internal audits easily—without expending undue time, effort, and expense. The lab also avoids noncompliance fines and enables streamlining and success in other EHS programs.