Strong Chemical Inventory Management Solutions Power MAQ Compliance

Fire departments across the United States are suddenly taking a strong interest in maximum allowable quantity (MAQ) rules. 

These crucial MAQ guidelines stipulate the maximum amount of hazardous chemicals that can be used or stored within a facility. They set a basis for the enforcement of best practices of chemicals in any organization. Local fire departments are typically responsible for inspection and enforcement—including the levying of penalties. And after the COVID-19 shutdown, fire inspectors are putting increased emphasis on discovering instances of MAQ violation.

Fortunately, a strong chemical inventory program can provide the basis for MAQ compliance. It does this by harvesting all necessary data (from a detailed and accurate chemical inventory management solution), and presenting it rapidly and accurately to the organization.

Increasing MAQ Scrutiny

We’ve seen how fire inspectors are now working to improve compliance and operational safety. During recent inspections, they have begun demanding organizations provide more accurate real-time chemical inventory data than before. Some managers may complain about the extra burden; they shouldn't. 

The reality is that MAQ guidelines keep a building's occupants and local first responders safe from hazardous R&D and production chemicals. They play a key role in reducing the risk of fire, injury, and destruction during chemical operations. Exceeding MAQs not only opens an organization to regulatory risk from local fire departments—it also unnecessarily jeopardizes the business and personnel.

MAQ Violation Is Risky

It seems that news stories about mishandled dangerous chemicals that put the public at risk are near constant. Because of the seriousness of these chemical events, official enforcement is strict for MAQ violations (and other infractions). Given the risk of workplace chemicals, it is just a matter of time before regulators increase scrutiny—and possibly even introduce even more severe enforcement and penalties.

Breaking official chemical rules, including those involving MAQs, can result in: 

  • Out-of-control incidents (and even disasters)
  • Injury to workers and damage to facilities and gear
  • Harm to the surrounding community
  • Operational disruption and production downtime
  • Brand and image damage
  • Citations and fines

These are avoidable outcomes. 

MAQ Rules Detail

The time to consider the consequences of MAQ infractions is now—before any potential violations. But before proceeding, we should understand a bit more exactly how officials enforce the guidelines.  Specific MAQ rules may vary from state to state, but the primary guidelines are in the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA’s) 400 Hazardous Materials Code.

Within this code, the NFPA defines hazardous materials and offers 14 substance categories. Each category is generally based upon its material’s chemical properties and flammability. The rules also factor in a building’s layout, and designate the MAQs based on the site’s fire control zones (a key concept).

Depending on its specific design, a facility may have one control zone—or many zones. Full MAQ and control zone compliance requires specific measurement of the 14 categories of substances in the control zone. Specific factors for MAQ compliance plans and documentation involve:

  • NFPA guidelines, including:
    • Classification
    • Occupancy
    • Usage
  • Building-specific fire codes, which are determined by year
  • Lab location, including the floor number and relevant control areas
  • Control area occupancy, including:
    • What training they have
    • The sort of gear they deploy
    • Which team members are working there
  • The presence and location of a complete building fire suppression (sprinkler)
  • The storage class of specific chemical hazards
  • Whether the organization is a public or a private institution (they face different rules) 

Broadly speaking, when an arrangement of hazardous chemicals in a control area exceeds the MAQ, a serious offense has occurred. This requires immediate corrective action. Clearly, maintaining full MAQ compliance involves many factors—which also means more headaches for already overburdened managers.

MAQ Compliance Demands Modern Solutions

One way to simplify and strengthen your organization’s MAQ compliance position is to implement or leverage an electronic chemical inventory solution. Unfortunately, too many organizations rely on cumbersome manual paper- or Excel-based inventory management systems. These don’t automatically update and can’t present information quickly and reliably to end users.

Keeping a paper or online spreadsheet current, populated with all the relevant data needed to verify MAQ compliance, is nearly impossible. The maintenance of an accurate snapshot of a building’s chemical inventory requires a comprehensive MAQ solution that can handle complex formulas and can perform near-constant updates.

Dependence on these legacy monolithic systems can quickly lead to errors and discrepancies. All these, and other knowledge gaps, leave managers and techs guessing about compliance. This is an invitation for chemical disaster.

The Right Solution to Enable MAQ Compliance

A new or modified chemical inventory management system can reduce the concerns with MAQ regulation compliance. Any sufficient platform will have the following essential capabilities:

  • Outstanding usability, reliability, and accessibility: The solution should be powered by a robust database and as streamlined and intuitive as possible. End user adoption should be rapid, allowing stakeholders to continue their productivity. The solution should shorten the time required to track the inventory, and quickly provide a current snapshot of MAQ compliance. It must also be available on-demand, 24/7, through a web interface and via mobile devices.
  • Capable of full chemical classifications: The software must be sophisticated enough to track all the various NFPA 400 chemical categories and subcategories for each on-site hazardous material. This may sound like an easy demand to meet—but the reality is that many systems just aren’t robust or granular enough to manage this level of detail. Organizations with an inadequate platform won’t see all the necessary information at every hazardous chemical categorization level.
  • Support for location and control zone functionality: The system must also pinpoint every control zone and the chemicals each one contains. While most software packages can track the chemicals down to the location level, they can’t identify the locations based on their control zone status. The ideal solution’s database tools should be able to find any location by its control zone type (i.e., by the hazardous materials it contains).
  • Streamlined and user-friendly analytical tools: There are many inventory software programs that collect relevant data. They don’t always, however, provide the analytical tools to properly interpret it. In such cases, managers must export the data to another business intelligence solution for analysis. This requires writing appropriate formulas to determine MAQ compliance—too much work for too little actionable information. A chemical inventory software solution should instead have all necessary analytical capabilities embedded. The solution should enable managers to rapidly and easily query if they are exceeding MAQ levels in any given control zone—and with a click of mouse, generate an easy-to-follow report to act on.
  • Real-time access to accurate inventory levels: Needless to say, the inventory management system must keep accurate account of all on-site chemicals—in as close to real-time as possible. This is a challenge for all organizations, but without the ability to track inventory and perform rapid checks and reconciliations, managers risk chemical drift. (That is the presence of inconsistencies in chemical inventory totals that accrue over time.) We recommend a system that supports the most appropriate workflows with:
    •  Barcode reading, simplifying bottle tracking
    • The ability to log any chemical as soon as it arrives on-site
    • The capability to immediately remove empty (or already disposed) bottles from the system 

Partnership for MAQ and Chemical Inventory

There are many risks to MAQ noncompliance. Rolling out a robust chemical inventory management system to enable guideline adherence is also risky. This is because the entire process is costly, time consuming, and complicated.

One way to approach this task is to turn to a partner to handle part (or all) of the chemical inventory software rollout. The partner should be able to provide full consulting capabilities for compliance and efficiency. Triumvirate Environmental is here to help—and has the savvy and the solutions to assist you. Talk to us today about aligning with MAQ best practices.

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