How On-Demand SDS Programs Boost Chemical Safety and Compliance

Laboratories and industrial operations that handle chemicals face a myriad of risks.

Access to key information can either help organizations avoid or minimize any chemical inventory events. Managers can do their part here by implementing a strong, modern chemicals safety data sheet (SDS) program—which is especially reliable with the right software. Such an operation boosts compliance and reduces risk—while simultaneously fulfilling federal safety requirements.

Chemical safety is timely subject. It seems as if major chemical events are happening on a weekly basis. In fact, it's worse: Overall, there is potentially one chemical-related accident every two days in the United States, according to some experts. 

No region is immune: Public spills have recently occurred in geographically distributed places, such as Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. Some events are minor, involving such substances as pool chemicals, and are quickly addressed with little fallout. Then there are full-scale disasters with crude oil or industrial chemicals, and these can have a huge potential impact on public health.

Workplace Chemical Risks

The risk that toxic or volatile chemicals pose extends into the workplace, as well—in factories, labs, or anywhere workers regularly interact with chemicals. Error, or unpredictable events (including natural disasters like earthquakes or floods) may cause researchers, technicians, and other workers to face serious injury or death.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for an adverse chain reaction to start. Chemicals are often toxic, explosive, corrosive, or otherwise innately dangerous. Substance leaks can cause slips and falls, or release and mix toxins into the air that workers—and the public—must breathe. Mismanaged chemical combinations can create explosions in the confined spaces of a lab or similar workplace.

In any given workplace, the near-constant interaction with chemicals is a constant risk factor. In a recent survey of academic lab workers, 45% of respondents claimed they were in a lab accident. Of that group, 73% of the events were related to chemical exposure—with 45% of those incidents involving inhalation.

If anything, managers are likely underestimating the risks, because reliable accident data is almost impossible to come by. According to a 2019 survey of lab personnel by The Laboratory Safety Institute, 25%-38% of respondents were involved in an accident or injury that went unreported to a supervisor or principal investigator.

Federal Lab Chemical Safety Requirements

Managers must have fast reaction plans in case of any chemical event. Federal and state laws offer guidelines to reduce toxic chemicals risks and protect employees—as well as the public. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces a Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), a crucial regulation.

The HCS affects all chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers. They must enable their employees to understand all hazard-related information about the chemicals they interact with or are exposed to. The HCS requires the employer to supply a 16-section SDS containing relevant information about every chemical in the workplace. The SDSs must be up to date, thorough, and easily accessible to employees 24/7.

Unfortunately, organizations frequently violate these SDS rules. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Too many managers find the price tag for a chemical inventory problem fix is far more costly in time, money, and effort than up-front preparation and compliance.

There are potential fines, lost productivity, remediation expenses, and more. Adherence to these guidelines, however, allows employers to avoid accidents and events—and stay clear of citations and penalties. My advice: It’s never too early to think about having the safest and most efficient chemical inventory management program for your operation.

Spreadsheet and Paper-Based SDS Systems Are Inadequate

Often, managers comply with the letter of the HCS, but do so by relying on outdated, clunky, manually intensive chemical inventory management solutions. These operations depend on paper documents or spreadsheets that lack any centralized storage or management.

But even the best maintained paper- or spreadsheet-based SDS systems just don’t offer the compliance capabilities many labs and similar organizations really need. For instance, with a paper-based or spreadsheet system (or a hybrid of the two):

  • Managers can’t easily combine crucial chemical inventory data with SDS information in paper or stand-alone electronic documents.
  • Documents, either physical or electronic, are easily misplaced, destroyed, or lost.
  • The fragility of paper means that it can be easily damaged—rendering it illegible. 
  • Manual labor is required to locate the individual SDS documents, and then update, correct, and share them.
  • It’s expensive to produce physical SDSs, as documents need to be printed, bound, and distributed—and then kept in safe and easily locatable places.

Ultimately, when an emergency occurs, managers and employees don’t want to be scrambling to find documentation in a closet or desk. Nor do they want to be searching through various laptops to find the right spreadsheet. Sometimes, mere moments can make the difference between a minor incident and a major event.

Moving to Online SDS Solutions

Fortunately, there are ways to approach SDS management that reduce risk and improve overall operations. For the reasons listed above, it makes good safety and business sense to migrate to a single, secure, on-demand electronic database solution. Such a system can:

  • Centralize all SDS-related data and documents, making them easier to update, correct, and share
  • Offer a single point of management that any trained user can leverage to maintain the solution and data in a streamlined, cost-effective way, saving administrative time and money
  • Enable workers and managers to quickly access the information from any approved device, such as a tablet or cell phone—crucial in case of a chemical event
  • Improve the accuracy of chemical identification and tracking—at any given time, managers can know immediately which chemicals are on-site, and in what volumes
  • Electronically and seamlessly merge chemical data with crucial OSHA interpretation letters, which offer guidance and definitions on particular policies, based on the chemical inventory
  • Streamline data harvesting, report generation, and analytics—enabling managers to proactively pinpoint vulnerable or noncompliant areas
  • Combine with the right software add-on, so staff can more easily generate and submit accurate and timely regulatory reports

Chemical Inventory Management Improvement

Are you looking to leverage chemical inventory SDS data to reveal on-site hazards? Need to select an on-demand, cloud-based software solution to support your operations? Want to reduce risk to your employes, operations, and facilities? A partner can take this burden from you. Triumvirate Environmental is such a partner—we can help you with our data-driven chemical inventory management solutions. Talk to us today.

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