Eight Tips to Get a Grip on Your Chemical Inventory

Be detailed -- include the entire product name, manufacturer, product code, container, physical form, and quantities.

As a Field Inventory Specialist, I see the good, the bad, and the ugly of chemical inventory practices! An accurate chemical inventory is the foundation for your overall chemical management initiatives and GHS compliance. Therefore, similar to building a house, periodic chemical inventories will ensure there are no cracks in your foundation. The foundation is built on understanding what chemicals you have on site, documenting where they are located, as well as ensuring an accurate and up-to-date safety data sheet (SDS) is available.

The rewards are that you will: 1) establish a solid baseline for creating chemical approval and control procedures, 2) ensure SDS compliance, and 3) automate regulatory reporting that is efficient and accurate.

Here are a few of the things I try to go over with EHS managers before I begin an inventory.

1. Tidy up. For safety and efficiency purposes, do a little "spring cleaning" on the areas that you are going to inventory. Dispose of unused or outdated chemicals before beginning.

2. Label and/or bar-code materials. Make sure all chemicals are labeled or use bar codes, if they’re available from your SDS or inventory management system. Labeled materials will speed up the inventory process and allow for the least disruptions of production lines or research activity.

3. Plan the work, work the plan. Set the date early and educate employees about the inventory process. Have a map of the facility and, if employing multiple teams to inventory, assign areas up front so there is no overlap or redundancy in effort.

4. Create chemical areas. Organize the inventory by chemical areas, which is either the physical location or logical grouping of materials. Typically, this is by physical location, such as "Store Room II-B," but sometimes it is also by a logical department, such as "Maintenance." If using logical areas, try to organize the individual physical locations within the department, such as "Maintenance -- South Building."

5. Be thorough. Do not skip chemical areas, cabinets, etc. and proceed in a planned, organized fashion. Be detailed -- include the entire product name, manufacturer, product code, container, physical form, and quantities. Furthermore, don't move misplaced material during the inventory. Make a note and move them to their proper location later.

6. Audit as you go. Have other individuals or separate teams perform spot checks throughout the day, rather than after you're done. This way, any issue in the inventory process or counts can be addressed while the chemical inventory teams are present.

7. Consider using inventory software. There are a few software options for your chemical inventory function. The advantages of utilizing software during the inventory are threefold; you can:

  • Reconcile materials to the corresponding SDS quickly. All materials present can be electronically reconciled to your electronic SDS notebook.
  • Centralize data across the facility and company. Chemicals that are redundant across the facility are rolled up, organized by location, and require only one SDS that can be shared in the system.
  • Reduce time for environmental reporting. Facilities that must produce Tier II and Form R/SARA TRI reports will have the advantage of pre-populated chemicals according to chemical area.

8. Develop a routine inventory schedule. Finally, make the chemical inventory process a routine event, perhaps annually. If this becomes burdensome, consider hiring a professional to perform the inventory. They will have access to the best tools and techniques to get the job done most efficiently and relieve you and your team of the inventory chore.

Getting a handle on your chemical inventory is the cornerstone of preparing for OSHA's transition to HazCom 2012, in which the agency has adopted provisions of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) into the U.S. Hazard Communication Standard. GHS is creating an avalanche of new and updated safety data sheets flowing through your supply chain as your suppliers must update their SDSs to meet the new requirements of the regulation. An accurate inventory will help to ensure you have the correct safety data sheets for all of the materials present in your facility, but also it will ensure you don’t spend unnecessary time and money updating documents for materials that are no longer present.

These updated safety data sheets now become the basis for your employee GHS training and new workplace labels for chemical containers, explaining the new hazard and precautionary statements, as well as pictograms that will be present on all new GHS labels.

By employing the right mix of people, process, and technology, you can get a step ahead in your chemical management efforts and ensure compliance under the new standards.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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