When we think of chemical storage we tend to think of large warehouses or factories designed to store chemicals in large quantities. However, the standards and regulatory requirements required of large chemical facilities still have to be met by smaller facilities. In smaller facilities and laboratories, chemical storage is often secondary to other tasks and functions. There are still a number of things you must do even if your primary business is not managing chemicals. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the necessary steps to properly manage chemicals as well as protect employee well-being.
Managing Chemical Material
Take a chemical inventory
Even if you have just a few reagent chemicals it’s important to determine if these are considered hazardous material. Reagent chemicals often come with Safety Data Sheets (SDS). Review the document to determine the type and level of hazard of the chemical. How much of the chemical do you have? A chemical may not be considered particularly hazardous in small amounts, however, it may be considered to be significantly more hazardous in larger quantities (e.g. reportable quantity).
Determine chemical storage requirements
The SDS should provide the storage requirements for the chemical. Does it require refrigeration, ultra cold storage, or controlled room temperature storage? Does it require special storage conditions (e.g. desiccation, inert gas)? Does it require segregated storage due to hazard (flammable, highly toxic, corrosive, etc.)? All of these questions need to be answered for each chemical in your inventory.
Provide appropriate storage area
Your chemical storage area(s) must adequately address safety and security. You need to see that access to the chemical storage areas is controlled, and the area equipped with the appropriate warning signs. Particularly hazardous compounds must be segregated from relatively non-hazardous chemicals and reagents. Separate storage areas should be set up for flammable materials, reactive chemicals, acutely toxic materials, corrosives, carcinogens, and reproductive toxins.
Check for incompatible materials
All chemicals must be assessed for storage compatibility. The safety data sheet for the chemical should list any incompatibilities. Some basic incompatibilities include:
- Acids with bases,
- Flammable with acidic compounds,
- Nitrates and acids,
- Ammonias and chlorinated compounds,
- Oxidizers with organics, and
- Perchlorates with oxidizers or metals.
There are many others. However, if there is some doubt, store separately.
Ensure appropriate labeling and secondary containerization
All labeling is now done using the conventions detailed in the Globally Harmonized System of labeling and identification. Each primary container should bear the warning pictograms and statements required. The label should match the accompanying SDS. I would advise using unbreakable secondary containers for all hazardous chemicals or reagents. These should also be labeled in the same way as the primary container. Secondary containerization reduces the potential for breakage and chemical exposure.
Reduce on-hand quantities
Only keep on hand what you need. This reduces exposure risks, storage compliance, and reporting requirements. More is not better.
Protecting your Employees
The basic precautions discussed above will help to keep your chemicals safe and well, but it’s equally as important to ensure the same protection for your employees. To keep them safe you must do the following:
Conduct a hazard assessment
When you bring a chemical into your shop are you bringing in a new hazard? If you have not dealt with this type of material before you need to look at how to handle this new chemical/reagent. This will be indicated on the SDS that should accompany the compound. Document any changes made to your handling procedures and then TRAIN ON IT.
Provide appropriate level of personal protective equipment (PPE)
You need to provide basic PPE that protects your workers from the chemicals you introduce to your site. When working with the materials you will need chemical resistant disposable gloves, safety glasses, chemical resistant apron, and sleeves. Other PPE may be needed depending on the engineering controls available at the site. Finally, be sure to TRAIN ON IT.
Dispose of waste and contaminated materials appropriately
The SDS for any given chemical will provide the hazardous waste designation for the material if it is known. Frequently, this is unknown and they urge the user to follow Federal, State, and local disposal regulations. This actually means you have to try to figure out disposal on your own. Generally, if the material can’t be described as hazardous, and you are dealing with small amounts and contaminated disposable items dispose by incineration as ‘Non-hazardous Non-DOT Regulated material’ through you disposal contractor. Larger quantities of chemicals and reagents need to be addressed individually. Never throw inventory chemicals or chemical waste by products in the trash. Oh, before I forget, TRAIN ON IT.
As a final step it’s also important to comply with the appropriate Federal, State and local regulations.
We recently published our latest edition of InsideAccess which focuses on the challenges involved in maintaining inventory accuracy. While technology has improved efficiency and accuracy in the management of all types of inventory, chemical and biospecimen alike, multiple challenges remain. Download your free copy to learn some of the tools we use in working toward our goal of absolute, 100%, accuracy in our operations!