Many manufacturing operations require the use of hazardous materials which must be monitored, stored and disposed of in a manner fitting federal regulations. In 1986 the U.S. government passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), establishing specific criteria for the safe handling of toxic chemicals that could adversely affect community members. EPCRA was passed largely in a response to fears over the danger posed by the improper management of hazardous materials in a manufacturing environment, which spiked at the time following an incident in India where more than 2,000 people were either killed or suffered severe injuries from the release of methyl isocyanate.
Among the many guidelines established by EPCRA, manufacturers are required to maintain a strict inventory management system so officials can accurately monitor the use and storage of potentially dangerous materials. Failing to comply with these regulations can lead to costly financial penalties. For instance, the EPA can impose fines as high as $27,500 per day and per chemical for especially egregious violations.
Maintaining proper oversight of manufacturing chemicals is no easy task, especially across a large enterprise. It can be very easy for warehouse managers to lose track of a unit or employ improper storage procedures. That is why businesses should leverage inventory management software to streamline these efforts and ensure that the company remains compliant with federal regulations. According to Michael Cournoyer, a scientist with Los Alamos National Laboratory, chemical inventory audits can occur at any time for organizations that store their hazardous material onsite. In a recent interview with Lab Manager, Cournoyer outlined chemical inventory management best practices that should be observed by any business that handles toxic chemicals as part of its daily operations.
Improving Compliance Efforts
Cournoyer noted that because of the many disparate requirements by various regulatory bodies, companies need an efficient method of monitoring chemical supplies across the entire enterprise. After integrating an inventory management system with his organization's legacy software, Cournoyer found that he could effectively address approximately 80 percent of audit questions pertaining to the storage and use of chemicals. Furthermore, the amount of time and resources dedicated to compliance measures can be greatly reduced with a barcode data collection system. A large manufacturer could have tens of thousands of individual units to catalog and monitor. Without a state-of-the-art inventory management and barcode software suite, the compliance initiatives could require a high cost of investment.
"[T]racking depends on the number of chemicals you need to manage, and if you get into the hundreds of chemicals, you need a chemical inventory system that tracks not only the chemical container, but also the chemical location," Cournoyer stated. "This is because if you have to write down every room, every cabinet, every shelf for each chemical, it can be very tedious. On the other hand, if you come in with a bar-code reader and scan the location and then scan all the chemicals, it doesn't take that long."
Cournoyer explained that in one instance, his organization had approximately 27,000 chemicals stored in two facilities. By using a barcode-enabled inventory management system, his team was able to complete mandated compliance measures within a two-week period.
These tools can also help warehouse managers ensure that they have taken the proper steps to meet chemical-specific regulations. For example, certain chemicals such as beryllium may require additional training to safely handle and work with. A chemical inventory management system can identify materials that necessitate such measures and notify managers so they can provide employees with the proper level of training. This way, manufacturers can be sure that they are fully in compliance with federal guidelines.