Several highly publicized chemical accidents have dominated headlines in recent years. Incidents like the West fertilizer plant fire to the Tianjin warehouse explosion have served as costly reminders about the repercussions of improperly storing dangerous materials. The damages to public health and property have even driven elected officials to become involved.1
But while tragic events like these receive the most media attention, the factors that lead to such large-scale accidents also contribute to smaller, more pervasive risks in research and manufacturing facilities. The unfortunate truth is that many chemical hazards in the laboratory can be minimized, and chemical accidents of varying magnitudes are often the result of improper storage—almost 25%, in fact.2 With many organizations relying on outdated and inefficient chemical management systems, the knowledge sharing required to ensure proper storage and safe handling can be difficult to execute. To lower the risks of chemical accidents both large and small, companies should utilize modern chemical management solutions that support safety and training strategies within their facilities.
Improper Chemical Storage and Handling Can Put Laboratory Workers at Risk
Further investigation into chemical accidents often uncovers improper chemical storage at the root. This common mistake can take on multiple forms, such as keeping flammable materials in the incorrect type of safety cabinet or mixing incompatible chemicals in the same area. These mishaps increase the risk of fires or explosions.
In addition to the inherent danger in fires and explosions, laboratory workers also face other chemical hazards in the laboratory:3 Chemical burns, allergic reactions from skin absorption and fume inhalation resulting in irritation of the eyes or respiratory tracts. Proper storage and handling of chemical hazards in the laboratory can prevent these types of occupational exposure from occurring, but the key to doing so remains with training.
A Digital Management System Supports Employee Training in Safe Chemical Handling
Preventing chemical hazards in the laboratory requires that organizations train their employees in the correct handling of dangerous materials. The difficulty in achieving this often rests in the number of hazardous chemicals found in many facilities. Keeping current with the most updated safety data for hundreds of hazardous materials can be a daunting task—one that is made more overwhelming by the fact that many organizations still rely upon outdated chemical management systems.
Modern management solutions help organizations minimize risks and increase laboratory safety by offering a platform that collects chemical inventory and safety information in one centralized digital location. When utilized effectively, the following safety protocols become simpler to pass on to employees and execute in facilities:
● Correct storage of hazardous chemicals: Rather than maintaining chemical safety binders that fall out of date quickly and are stored in inaccessible locations, digital chemical management systems allow employees to access this information more easily. Armed with chemical classifications, materials can be stored in the appropriately rated safety cabinets.
● Separation of incompatible materials: Beyond storing hazardous chemicals in the proper cabinets, laboratories also need to segregate incompatible materials. Just as storing a flammable chemical in a wooden cabinet can cause a fire, keeping incompatible materials in close proximity can lead to an explosion. By utilizing a digital chemical management system that maintains an accurate on-site inventory, laboratories can track material location and ensure that they are kept separate from potential risks.
● Proper safe handling: While correct chemical storage and segregation can prevent laboratory hazards, proper handling can protect worker safety. Digital chemical management systems allow the linking of safety data sheets to on-site inventory. As a result, laboratory workers can access safety information and learn the appropriate safe handling procedures for specific chemicals such as required PPE or ventilation.
Chemical hazards in the laboratory can lead to accidents. Even the largest chemical accident can originate from small safety oversights that add up over time. Unfortunately, the reliance upon outdated chemical management systems often exacerbates this problem. As companies increase in size and span multinational borders, using inefficient systems to manage enormous chemical inventories is no longer a tenable option. To minimize the risk of accidents, organizations need to adopt modern chemical management solutions that enable employee training and safety.
BIOVIA CISPro is a digital chemical management system that helps organizations streamline their laboratory workflows and increase workplace safety. It offers tools that allow accurate inventory tracking, location status via barcode labeling, and integrated safety data sheets. A centralized location enables laboratory workers to access information from any time and place, overcoming hurdles found in older management systems.
1 “Houston officials want action on chemical hazards,” September 21, 2016, http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Houston-officials-want-action-on-chemical-hazards-9238281.php
2 “Guidelines for Safe Chemical Segregation,” July 7, 2016, http://www.labmanager.com/lab-health-and-safety/2016/07/guidelines-for-safe-chemical-segregation#.V-PrHvkrLIU
3 “Are You Prepared for the Top 5 Laboratory Hazards?” July 12, 2016, http://ehstoday.com/protective-clothing/are-you-prepared-top-5-laboratory-hazards