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Three Reasons Why You Need a Chemical Inventory Management System

Forgoing a proper chemical inventory management platform will only increase risk and waste money

Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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A growing academic research lab begins working with the university’s space planners to design a lab space. Everything is going well—until the university’s environmental health and safety (EHS) officer sends an ominous email:

SUBJECT: Conflict with fire control zone—requesting meeting ASAP. 

The EHS officer reveals that he’s found the new lab—with its host of automated equipment and stockpile of consumables—contains flammable chemicals that push its fire control zone (FCZ) past its maximum allowable quantity (MAQ). This error has a ripple effect throughout the facility. The new lab construction halts and other labs in the FCZ are looped into the issue. Time and money are wasted across every lab. Frustration grows.

The EHS officer later explains that the issue took so long to uncover because someone (no one knows who, as there’s no tracked edit history) modified the wrong column in the shared spreadsheet used to track chemical inventory, resulting in false data that indicated the FCZ could accommodate so many chemicals. “Had we been using a real chemical inventory management platform,” he argues, “we would have caught this and planned the lab properly from the start.”

The necessity of a chemical inventory management platform

The above scenario illustrates the consequences of not using a dedicated chemical inventory management system. Because those involved were using only rudimentary inventory tracking methods, they missed out on numerous benefits that chemical inventory systems provide—namely, catching problems preemptively, ensuring regulatory compliance, and protecting data integrity.

Catch problems preemptively

Proper inventory management will allow lab managers and EHS officers to foresee and prevent potential issues before they happen. By knowing what hazardous chemicals are in the facility, how much there is, and where they’re located, staff will be well-equipped to make sure they’re carrying out experiments in line with policy, minimizing the chance of a safety incident. Additionally, as seen in the story, having this information would have allowed the EHS officer to notice the MAQ conflict much earlier than he did, which would have saved hours of time and thousands of dollars.

Proper inventory management will allow lab managers and EHS officers to foresee and prevent potential issues before they happen.

Protect data integrity

Notice that the labs in the scenario were using a spreadsheet to track chemical inventory. While this may work for small labs, it is not scalable. This is because spreadsheets aren’t designed for siloed data entry and have no permissions schema, which make it far too easy for a user to accidentally modify information that they aren’t authorized to modify. A chemical inventory platform will minimize erroneous data, which will help prevent incidents and allow others to be confident in the data. It also plays a role in another key area: ensuring compliance.

Ensure regulatory compliance

With comprehensive, accurate data, your facility’s EHS officer can perform internal safety audits and ensure that all labs are compliant with every relevant regulation before an incident prompts an audit. Without these audits, lab operations become a liability that open staff, and the organization as a whole, to unneeded risk.

In short, chemical inventory management systems have a host of benefits and promote a culture of safety and accountability—and not using one might cost you in the long term.