Identifying and Managing Chemical Inventory Drift Within Your Lab

Does your facility have a reliable chemical inventory management system in place? If yes, one would like to think their inventory is accurate and reliable. However, an audit would most likely reveal that the inventory is less than perfect. In chemical inventory, as with most types of inventory, the quantities shown in the system do not always reflect what is physically in storage and in use. In the retail industry, the term “shrinkage” is used to refer to the loss of inventory over time, caused by a variety of factors such as theft and administrative error. In regards to chemical inventory in laboratories, this unrecorded change in inventory over time is referred to as “drift.”

Gaps In The Process

There are two types of causes for chemical inventory drift. The first type usually arises from gaps created in the chemical inventory management process. An example of a poorly managed process would be chemical materials delivered in poorly marked boxes and/or delivered through a different entrance and received by someone who doesn’t understand the inventory system, ultimately not getting into the system properly. In some instances, there might be one or more loading docks for deliveries, and if not clearly labeled as a chemical inventory pickup destination, materials could easily be overlooked. Additionally, if chemical disposal bins are not properly labeled, or if there is no process in place to replace the bins once they are full, then this can cause issues with the process and lead to chemical inventory drift.

Human Error

The second type of drift is caused by human error, just like how it is referred to in the retail world. An example of human error caused in chemical inventory management would be the receiving party of the materials not applying the inventory bar codes once received. Another example would be if a scientist uses a chemical from one storage location and either never returns it or puts it away in a different cabinet (or lab) that has a separate inventory.

We all do our best to combat against inaccuracies in our inventories, but process issues and human errors can sometimes be unavoidable and disruptive to your data and pose dangerous chemical safety issues. Even if you think you know where chemicals enter the building and have a plan to receive them, issues can still arise. And common errors such as misspellings on labels or scientists moving benches without notice to the receiving personnel can throw an entire system off.

Managing Drift

Addressing drift is an important part of lab management because an inaccurate inventory is inefficient, costly and unsafe. You may not be able to run an experiment that you thought you could, based on faulty inventory data. You may have to wait some time for the missing chemicals to be delivered, delaying your project deadlines. An accurate inventory is necessary in order to pull the reports you need to apply for, renew permits, and provide auditors with proper information. Discrepancies found in your inventory could ultimately mean dangerous chemicals aren’t being stored properly, posing a higher risk to your lab’s chemical safety.

Next Steps

It's safe to assume we can acknowledge drift is a reality of chemical inventory management, yet that does not mean it should be overlooked. Your lab should be prepared on how to react and reconcile properly when it occurs. In addition to creating and maintaining a chemical inventory system and training regimen that reduces gaps in the process and human error, you will need to include a plan for auditing the inventory from time to time. 

Triumvirate Environmental can design, implement, and support all aspects of your chemical inventory management. To speak to a Triumvirate Environmental Consultant today regarding the right chemical inventory management system, you can dial 888-834-9697 or click the button below.

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