Maintaining an accurate chemical inventory is a never-ending job, and one with little margin for error – any disagreement or inconsistency could lead to major problems for health, safety, and sustainability.
That’s why a chemical inventory system is a must for any organization looking to take control of their chemical inventory.
A good chemical inventory system offers a number of advantages that will help you simplify chemical ordering, storage, use, and reporting while reducing the potential for human error. While there may be different ways of reaching these effects, if your system isn’t hitting these notes, it should be a sign that something isn’t working right.
Here are three major advantages of a good chemical inventory system:
Eliminate tedious, time-consuming tasks
There are only so many times you can watch your day be subjected to death by a thousand cuts. A good chemical inventory system allows you to easily keep tabs on all the orders coming into your labs, as well as amounts of every chemical by lab space, building, department, or division.
The most obvious advantage of investing in a good chemical inventory is the time savings you’ll notice. On a per-case basis, it might not seem like much, but all the time you spend searching for answers to questions like “How much more solvent can I order?” or “Where are our expiring peroxide-formers?” can really add up.
To be able to answer these questions quickly and with confidence, you need to move beyond binders and spreadsheets and start harnessing the power of modern inventory software (which, in most cases, also needs to be fueled by a high-quality database).
With good chemical inventory software, you can instantly locate your high-hazard chemicals like peroxide formers and sort by expiration date. Or check your inventory against flammable liquid limits. You can even convert between metric and imperial units without having to whip out your calculator. Situations like building code assessments, lab cleanouts when a lab gets dissolved (pun intended), and chemical safety assessments can either eat up a week+ of time with a poor system, or be handled in the space of a few hours with a high-quality solution (we’ll stop with the puns now).
Maintain a state of high audit readiness without extra work
There’s nothing more panic-inducing than scrambling for answers while an auditor breathes down your neck. In addition to the obvious benefits of streamlining management and reporting, good chemical inventory software gives your team a leg up in the event of an audit (and a lot of room to breathe).
Because your information is already up-to-date and organized, you can create real-time reports with just a few clicks. This will save your team days or weeks of preparation on each audit. As we mentioned above, good software also enables you to answer questions quickly and with confidence. This comes in handy when auditors have questions beyond the scope of your reports. With software, access to information about every chemical across your organization is at your fingertips, so no matter what the auditor asks, you’ll have the answer instantly.
Plus (and this is a big plus), having a chemical inventory system in place gives auditors confidence in your data. In the same way that an IRS auditor is much less likely to question orderly records than she is to take a fine-toothed comb to a shoebox stuffed with receipts, an auditor focused on chemical safety will be less likely to scrutinize your chemical inventory if you can show that you have your house in order.
If, on the other hand, you’re still using spreadsheets, auditors may be quick to see potential issues and press for more information.
Support your inventory management style
There are two main inventory management styles: decentralized, where you rely on individual labs or groups to manage their own chemical inventories, or centralized, where a small handful of staff manages the data from a central location. It’s also not uncommon for organizations to use a combination of both management styles.
Which approach you use will depend on a number of factors, like your organization’s size and resource availability. No matter which method you choose, it’s important that your inventory system supports your style of management.
Some chemical inventory systems only support one method or the other, which can cause errors, frustration, and bottlenecks.
A good chemical inventory system allows individual scientists or centralized inventory specialists to compile information while sharing the same knowledge base. It should even allow you to walk some of that middle ground as your needs require. A good system also provides the ability for appropriate EHS personnel to go in and make changes or updates where needed. With a system like this in place, teams can work together seamlessly to yield more accurate chemical inventory data.
We've given you a lot to chew on, so here's a quick recap:
A good chemical inventory system should enable you to answer questions quickly and with confidence, freeing you up to focus on high-value tasks.
The more quickly and completely you can answer questions about your chemical inventory, the more smoothly audits will go and the less likely that auditors will scrutinize your records.
In order to reap these benefits, you should prioritize a chemical inventory system that supports your style of inventory management while helping your entire team work efficiently.
Of course, these are only a few of the many advantages a good chemical inventory system should offer. There are plenty more that should be present, so keep an eye out for future articles that dive in to some of the other key benefits.