For organizations using chemicals or manufacturing chemicals today, challenges continue to arise around proper inventory management and mitigation of potential hazards. Concurrently, regulations continue to increase due to globalization, facilities are seeing an increase in new chemicals due to Covid-19, and a national decline in the number of Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH) is leaving chemical management falling into the hands of EHS generalists.
Chemical inventory management is a critical task for many professionals managing occupational health and safety programs and can be become costly for organizations. Unsafely stored chemicals or excess overstock can present significant chemical hazards to workers. To ensure maximum safety, it is important to store only the minimal level of chemicals required. Keeping sufficient chemical inventory records will also help ensure effective chemical storage rotation and avoid the hazards presented by chemical deterioration.
The recent catastrophic event of the Beirut chemical explosion has shed new light on the importance of proper chemical management and necessary duties of health and safety professionals.
Consequences of Chemical Inventory Mismanagement: Beirut, Lebanon Explosion
The facility housing 3,030 U.S. tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut, led to a massive explosion on August 4, 2020 with more than 200 fatalities and injuring more than 6,000. It created a shock wave that severely damaged roads and buildings, shattering glass for miles away from the incident. Ammonium nitrate is used in the world’s most popular agricultural fertilizers and is a key component in mining and construction explosives. Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, stated that the explosion in Beirut began as a result of unsafely stored chemical.
Managing Chemical Inventory & Storage Requirements
In the Unites States, OSHA’s Guidance on Ammonium Nitrate Storage Requirements, outlines the criteria for proper handling, storage, transportation, and disposal of the chemical compound. As a health and safety professional, safety and well-being of workers is a number one priority and regulations are built on this premise. Without good inventory processes, it’s extremely challenging to not only inventory your chemicals, but remain vigilant in addressing compliance requirements and communicating effective handling and hazards to employees.
Routine maintenance of chemical inventory control, inspections of chemical storage areas, and proper labeling of chemicals and containers are huge factors in proper chemical management.
OHSA GHS Labeling Requirements of Hazardous Chemicals
OHSA provides guidance on required GHS labeling of all hazardous chemicals that are brought into the US and abroad include a label with specific information. The required safety data sheet information is as follows:
- Product Identifier
- Signal Word
- Hazard Statement
- Precautionary Statement
- Name and phone number of chemical manufacturer/responsible party
These labeling requirements help establish a baseline for improved safety in the handling of chemicals and have helped many manufacturers meet chemical compliance.
Chemical Management: 5 Rules for Safe Storage
Safely storing chemicals requires great attention to detail to minimize risks. Hazards can arise when chemicals are stored in large quantities; associated hazards can be largely minimized by reducing the quantity of chemicals on hand. Proper segregation, such as a physical barrier or distance, is necessary to prevent incompatible materials from inadvertently coming into contact. Correct use of containers and common lab equipment is critical. Important storage qualities should include: temperature, ignition control, ventilation, segregation and identification. All chemical storage areas and cabinets should be inspected annually, and any unwanted or expired chemicals should be removed.
Here are 5 Rules for Chemical Storage Safety:
- Proper Labeling: Label all chemical containers fully in accordance with regulatory requirements. It is also recommended to include the owner’s or user’s name along with the date received. Learn more about digitizing GHS compliant labels.
- Location: Pay attention to storage location – take external factors into account (sun, excessive heat, extreme cold, etc.), ensure proper ventilation, and account for certain flooring types that can interact with chemicals over time. Provide a specific storage space for each chemical and ensure return after each use.
- SDS Management: Safety data sheets include information, such as the properties of each chemical; the physical, health, and environmental health hazards; protective measures; and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting the chemical.
- Chemical Inventory: Separate all chemicals, especially liquids, according to compatible groups. Follow all precautions regarding storage of incompatible materials. Post a chemical compatibility chart for reference, both in the lab and next to chemical storage rooms.
- Appropriate Chemical Management Storage: Store flammable liquids in approved flammable liquid storage cabinets. Small amounts of flammable liquids may be stored in the open room. Check with your local authority (e.g., fire marshal, EH&S personnel) for allowable limits. Store volatile toxics and odoriferous chemicals in ventilated cabinets. Use appropriate resistant secondary containers for corrosive materials. This protects the cabinets and will catch any leaks or spills due to breakage. Seal containers tightly to prevent the escape of vapors.
The Critical Role of Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
Organizations must maintain an accurate inventory of chemicals with proper classification and labeling. The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires that the chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importer provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), for each hazardous chemical and communicate information on these hazards to users. The intent of this information is to provide guidance to help workers who handle hazardous chemicals to become familiar with the chemical and associated risks for optimal transparency based on the Right-to-Know (RTK). In addition, in case of emergency or an employee potentially exposed to a chemical, emergency first responders can review safety data sheets with detailed information on the chemical/s in question.
Function of Safety Data Sheets for Chemical Inventory Management
SDSs include the physical properties of chemicals, protective measures and necessary PPE, procedures for first aid, in addition to handling and storage instructions to improve workplace safety.
The sections of chemical SDSs, include:
- Chemical Identification & Composition includes the product identifier, names & synonyms, recommended use and restrictions, impurities and stabilizing additives, as well as the contact information and emergency phone number of the chemical manufacturer.
- Hazard Identification corresponding with the OSHA chemicals classification list under the Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard, hazard statements, symbols and precautionary statements for users.
- Accidental Release & First Aid Measures will vary according to the method of exposure/release and the effects from being exposed to the chemical, in addition to methods to contain and clean up a spill.
- Fire-Fighting measures lists suitable extinguishing techniques, equipment; chemical hazards from fire., the nature of hazardous combustion products, as well as precautions for firefighters to take when trying to control the fire.
- Handling and storage instructions outlines safe handling and storage procedures and also lists other substances that are incompatible with the chemical.
- Exposure Limits & Protective Controls provide exposure limits on an SDS can include an OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) or an American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists Threshold Limit Value (ACGIH TLV), and recommended controls and PPE.
Read more about all 16 sections of safety data sheets and which ones are required for organizations. For more information on automating chemical inventory management and safety data sheets, click here to learn about Gensuite’s digitized SDS system with mobile capabilities.