Scientific Productivity | Managing the Lab

Lab Organization for Chemists and Chemistry Labs

Chemical inventory mismanagement can cause severe health risks. It’s important to stay up to code, provide necessary equipment and lab safety supplies, and offer regular training on handling chemicals and chemical waste.

To ensure safety in your lab, only store the minimum amount of chemicals necessary, keep detailed records, and provide readily available safety information and equipment to avoid any hazards or accidents.

Managing Chemical Inventory

Building and maintaining an accurate chemical inventory is not just a regulatory requirement, but also critical to protect your lab staff from chemical hazards. Build your lab’s chemical inventory in a way that it can effectively be interpreted and provide all necessary details to the relevant members of your lab.

Here are three golden rules for safe chemical inventory management

1. Labelling
The correct labelling of chemicals helps staff to follow all safety requirements and provides all necessary information to handle and store the chemical. The required labelling details include:

  • Product name
  • Properties
  • Best usage
  • Physical, health, and environmental risks associated
  • Protective measures
  • Guidelines for storing, handling, and transporting the chemical
  • Contact details of the manufacturer

Make sure that all Safety Data Sheets or Material Safety Data Sheets (SDS/MSDS), with information on managing spills or contact with the material, are readily available to all lab staff.

2. Location
Chemicals need to be stored in areas that are complementary to their nature. For example, if a chemical is reactive to excess heat, store it under cold and dry conditions. Ensure proper ventilation, storage units, temperature, and other essential factors to help in safe storage.

3. Safe Storage
Separate chemicals by states (solids, liquids, semi-solids, etc.) and reactive properties into compatible groups. Based on their precautionary measures, they need to be stored in the right environment and location. Separate chemicals when storing and transporting to prevent them from reacting with each other, deteriorating, or other health hazards.

How Do You Set Up a Chemical Lab?

When setting up a chemical lab, it’s just as important to establish safety and security programs for the long life of chemicals as it is to maintain safety. Here are some guidelines to improve compliance with safety and security policies while setting up a chemical lab.

1. Plan the necessary equipment and structure
While setting up the laboratory, all the necessary equipment and chemicals need to be enlisted by importance. Only the most important and in-demand chemicals or equipment should be brought in at first, to ensure the right stocking and use. Once the basics are set up, more complex products can be planned for the lab.

2. Develop digital records for everything
Every chemical and equipment needs to be recorded digitally. Although records on paper are also an alternative, they are prone to getting lost or destroyed. So, digital records are the more reliable data source.

3. Keep an organized supply room
The supply room needs to be well-built and organized to accommodate every chemical, equipment, and piece of machinery. Arrange labeled containers by use, alphabetically, or by the periodic table, or whatever system works best for your lab. A cluttered supply room only adds to the confusion and late deliveries of products. While setting up a lab, organizing each and every element, and having a place for everything, is critical for its smooth functioning.

4. Plan for emergencies
Laboratories are prone to experience unplanned accidents, injuries, or emergencies. Be prepared for the unexpected! Emergency requirements like fire extinguishers, safety showers, eye wash stations, and emergency equipment and supplies need to be made available at all times.

Emergency drills and procedures help staff feel more prepared when accidents happen, so conduct them regularly. Offer training on handling hazardous chemicals and require an annual competency to check if staff is up to date on safety practices.

5. Train and mentor
Training and mentoring every individual working in the laboratory will result in responsible management and handling of equipment and chemicals. Setting up safety procedures and communicating it to all responsible parties builds a culture of ensuring workplace well-being.

Organizing Your Chemical Lab Notebook

An organized chemical lab notebook helps you keep track of the resources available in the lab and store them properly. Here are some great tips for organizing your lab notebook:

1. Do it every day
Take out a small part of your day at the beginning or towards the end to record a daily log. This will avoid confusion and piled up work towards the end of the month or quarter and will help identify trends and patterns in the lab.

2. Use templates
If you’re unsure of what to include on record, use pre-made templates available online and set a structure to your report. Use the same structure to maintain the record.

3. Put a date and number to each page
Including a date and page number helps you keep your record on track and also make it easier to navigate in the future, even in a hurry.

4. Note anything unusual
If you note anything unusual, mention it in the notebook to consider in the future. If unusual things occur frequently, it’s time to recheck your materials and procedures.

With the important responsibility of managing and handling chemicals, safety and organizational procedures are essential. Follow these guidelines and analyze your lab’s safety compliance, then address any concerns if they appear. A happy lab is a safe lab!

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