Guidelines for storing chemicals in the lab

Mar 28, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Laboratories typically store a lot of different types of hazardous chemicals. And because laboratories are often compact places where experiments and tests are being conducted simultaneously, it can be a challenge to store hazardous chemicals in a safe and compliant manner. Things like leaving chemicals on worktop benches, containers stacked on top of each other or put on the floor — sound familiar? This blog is about cleaning up the lab: knowing what you’ve got and getting those hazardous chemicals into safety cabinets. C’mon, you know you want to.

Implement a Chemical Safety Management Program

A Chemical Management Program (CMP) is the place to start. It’s a systemised Risk Management and Hazard Control methodology for ensuring all the chemicals at your work site are correctly identified and assessed so that suitable control measures can be introduced. Your CMP will get your lab compliant with current WHS legislation and then initiate a review process so that safety and compliance in your lab is sustained.

We recommend using the STOREMASTA Chemical Management Methodology at your laboratory. It’s a four step process that’s easy to follow: here’s quick introduction on how it works.

STEP 1: Identify the chemicals and hazards

Walk around the label and physically identify each and every chemical, collating the Safety Data Sheets (SDS's) as you go. Make a list of where they're stored and any hazards you see. This could be irregularities in labelling, unsafe storage, or chemicals you can't identify. 

STEP 2: Assess the risks

Now from that list of hazards make a list of:

  • All the possible chemical incidents that could occur from the hazards. (fires, explosions, chemical leaks, container breakages)
  • How frequently they could happen. (has it happened before? have there been any near-misses? how often are the chemicals used?)
  • The possible consequences. (death of workers, building damage, emissions into the environment)

STEP 3: Controls the hazards

For each event you’ve identified in Step 2 you’ll need to introduce some control measures to reduce the likelihood of it happening, plus minimise the possible consequences. The STOREMASTA Methodology uses the Hierarchy of Control to do this as it helps you look at ways to;

  • Eliminate each chemical hazard
  • Substitute a less harmful chemical into the workflow
  • Engineer a safer workplace layout and introduce safety cabinets
  • Administrate safe working procedures and job methods
  • Have staff use PPE

STEP 4: Sustain your compliance

Finally, review everything you’ve done by conducting another risk assessment on each of your control measures, because sometimes control measures create new hazards. You also need to systematically review your chemical management methodology each time new chemicals are introduced or the lab undergoes significant changes.

Tip: learn more about assessing and controlling chemical hazards by downloading our FREE eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. You’ll also learn how to implement our Chemical Management Methodology.

Keep a Manifest of Hazardous chemicals

One of the risk control measures you’ll use in our Chemical Management Methodology, will be creating a Manifest of Hazardous chemicals for the lab. You’ll begin by documenting all the hazardous chemicals that are used, stored and handled in the lab and collating a copy of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each of them.

The Manifest of Hazardous Chemicals also requires a written summary of the chemical hazards and other information useful to emergency responders and firefighters. These include:-

  • Full name of each chemical and the hazard class
  • Location of each chemical referenced to a sitemap
  • Quantities of each chemical and the container sizes
  • Emergency procedures summary
  • Location of PPE and emergency equipment

Your staff will need to know where to find it, and it should be easily accessible to everyone (including emergency responders and firefighters).

TIP: not necessarily in the manifest, you should also record the shelf-life or expiration dates of the chemicals; the date the chemicals were received; and when they are opened.

Use Compliant Chemical Storage Cabinets

Safety cabinets are an engineering control measure that address some of the very hazardous storage practices common to labs. Here are some reasons why we recommend you use them …

  • Safety cabinets keep hazardous chemicals away from heat sources like steam pipes and laboratory ovens.
  • Safety cabinets prevent hazardous chemicals from being stuck in dodgy places like overloaded shelves or under the sink (water can cause  dangerous reactions with some chemicals).
  • Safety cabinets prevent chemicals from being routinely stored on bench tops where they are likely to be knocked over or mixed up.
  • Flammable cabinets have their own spillage trays and ventilation systems,  and prevent flammable chemicals from being exposed or contributing to fire situations.
  • Corrosive cabinets are completely metal-free and separate corrosives from other substances. The cabinets are made from 100% high density polyethylene that has been tested for chemical resistance.
  • Secure chemical storage prevents unauthorised personnel having access to dangerous substances.

REMEMBER: the type of safety cabinets you use will depend on the hazard class of the chemicals. Carefully checking the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for these details is part of the Identification and Assessment stage of our Chemical Management Methodology.

Next Steps

Do you store all the chemicals at your laboratory safely and correctly? Do you know if your lab complies with current WHS legislation? If you answered no to either of these questions, please download and read our FREE eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. We’ll teach you how to implement our Chemical Management Methodology into your workplace.

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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