Fixing Inventory Nightmares before It's Too Late: Better Electronic Inventory Methods Increase Safety and Profitability

Occupational Hazards, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Fixing Inventory Nightmares before It's Too Late: Better Electronic Inventory Methods Increase Safety and Profitability


When it comes to hazardous chemicals, what you don't know can hurt you.

If you are not certain what chemicals you have, in what amounts and in which locations, you could be paying to store, track, comply with and dispose of compounds you don't need or shouldn't have.

You also may be endangering the health and safety of workers and communities, risking fines, and even facing jail time. Consider that, in fiscal 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted 21,000 inspections and mounted 425 criminal and 455 civil investigations. These led to 77 years of jail sentences and $47 million in fines, according to the EPA's FY 2004 Enforcement and Compliance Trends.

In a typical EPA case, one Michigan company paid $10,687 in January 2005 for failing to submit required 2000, 2001 and 2002 chemical inventory forms for large amounts of oil products. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to install a rail line spill containment system and donate new emergency response equipment to the local fire department. The extra environmental projects were valued at $32,714.

"EPA encourages the use of less-toxic and safer replacements for chemicals whenever possible," says EPA spokesperson Dale Kemery. It's also why chemical management experts say you should start taking control of hazardous substances by taking stock of what's on your shelves.

"Physical inventories allow companies to determine which sites are using what chemicals," says Mark Wysong, CEO of Dolphin Software and author of The Nontoxic CEO, Protecting Your People, Planet and Profits through Better Chemical Management, published in 2003 by Beyond Words Publishing.

Wysong recommends starting with a physical inventory to improve both regulatory compliance and chemical management practices.

Getting a clear picture of the hazardous chemical inventory helps companies improve their compliance with regulatory rules, Wysong notes. It also provides a wealth of information that can later form the basis for management decisions on storing, reducing, substituting or eliminating dangerous substances.

NEW TECHNIQUES AID INVENTORY PROCESS

To address the need for better chemical compliance and management, some companies are developing new tools to help manage chemical inventories.

For example, Dolphin Software recently created a device that streamlines the process of inventorying chemicals and aligning that inventory with the MSDS database. The device, known as the Portable Inventory Assistant (PIA), is currently helping dozens of North American companies conduct scores of inventories and reconcile their product-to-MSDS gaps.

Companies that have completed these inventories have been shocked to learn they are from 50 percent to 85 percent out of compliance, according to Dolphin statistics. This means that the companies have numerous chemical products for which they have no on-site or corporate-office MSDSs as required by law. With electronic inventory tracking, however, these companies are getting back into compliance, and saving money in the process.

INVENTORY DATA ENABLES CHEMICAL MANAGEMENT

One of the ultimate goals of inventory tracking is to help companies reduce their supply of chemical products. …

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