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Advancements in Chemical Safety Technology: Making Workplaces Safer for All

January/February 2016

Being on the frontlines of chemical safety has never been more important. Recently, President Obama signed a budget deal that directed OSHA to increase fines up to 80%, the first serious increase in 25 years. And, at the 2015 National Safety Council Congress and Expo, OSHA announced changes to inspection protocol, including a greater focus on facilities that create, use and store hazardous chemicals. Recent catastrophic events at chemical facilities, both domestically and abroad, have placed greater attention on these facilities and the steps needed to mitigate risk to employees and the surrounding communities. In short, companies with chemicals need to take chemical management seriously. New technology can help.

For the more than five million facilities in North America that create, use, or distribute hazardous chemicals, providing workers with immediate access to important hazard information is key to maintaining a safe, compliant workplace. Growth in EHS software solutions, coupled with significant advances in technology, has ushered in major changes to the way hazardous chemical information is collected and shared. Today’s safety professionals have more options than ever to help them track and deploy chemical data.

Following are a few ways technology is streamlining chemical safety management by helping safety professionals better understand and manage the chemical hazards in their facilities.

Cloud Computing
Possibly the most significant technological advancement in chemical management has been the adoption of cloud computing. Traditionally, safety data sheets (SDS) have been tracked, stored and shared using paper and three-ring binders, a method that many find cumbersome and ineffective. In places that use and store many different chemicals, the collection of bulky binders often take up valuable space, while reviewing and updating the binders is a laborious, resource intensive process. As a result, binders often end-up outdated with some safety data sheets missing all together — putting the facility out of compliance and staff at risk. Even when everything is up-to-date, finding and accessing the information in these binders during an emergency can be challenging for employees.

Today’s cloud-based chemical management solutions provide an alternative. Electronic management via the cloud improve SDS access, management and employee Right-to-Know compliance all without the need for companies to invest in additional hardware or IT personnel. It also streamlines the sharing of information between facilities, making the widespread sharing, gathering and storing of critical chemical information easier and faster than ever before.

Another benefit of the cloud is the opportunity for employers to take advantage of the “network effect” when it comes to chemical management. The “network effect” describes the benefit participants receive from being part of a community of users and a system under which more users equates to greater benefits shared by all. More specifically, with a good electronic SDS management solution, the more employers that share a cloud-accessible SDS library, the more up-to-date content is added to the cloud by the solution provider and other users, resulting in a greater value to everyone with access to that information.

Chemical Management on the Go
One of the most important developments in chemical management is the advancement of mobile solutions. Through the use of mobile technologies, safety professionals can now access and manage critical safety information where they need it most, such as on the receiving dock – where chemicals enter a facility – or in the field, where chemicals are being stored and used.

A good mobile solution allows users to search and view SDSs and other critical safety information, track and manage chemicals at the container level with remote access to chemical inventories, and even provides managers with the ability to approve (or ban) chemicals at their point of origin, before they enter the facility — all from an internet connected smart phone or tablet.

Mobile apps allow for even greater functionality. For instance, last year, MSDSonline – a VelocityEHS chemical management solution – released updates to its mobile Chemical Inventory Scanner app that lets customers use the cameras on their mobile devices to quickly track chemical inventory information by scanning a barcode or QR code label to retrieve and edit container information.

Expanded Chemical Management Capabilities
Changes to the Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom) brought about by OSHA’s alignment with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) — a model HazCom system developed by the United Nations — has triggered substantive changes to the communication of hazards in the workplace. Under GHS, both safety data sheets and chemical labels have new formats that provide specific and consistent information about the health and physical hazards of chemicals. Safety data sheets now follow a strictly ordered, 16-section format. Similarly, chemical labels on shipped containers must now follow a standardized format with six key elements that identify the hazards and provide clear instructions on safe handling.

For many chemical suppliers, the new labeling requirements under the GHS have led to major changes in the way they create and print their chemical labels for shipped containers. Likewise, it is shaping the way many companies approach their workplace (or secondary container) labels. While OSHA gives companies leeway with workplace label format, it is quickly becoming an industry best practice to replicate the information from the shipped label. Consistency in labeling reduces the training burden that employers face when employees must be trained on multiple labeling systems (e.g., GHS, HazCom, NFPA, HMIS).

Today’s electronic chemical labeling options make it easy for employers to create workplace labels in the GHS format by taking the necessary information directly from the SDSs in the GHS format. Sections one and two of the SDS include the information OSHA regards as most important to employees in the workplace. With a good chemical management software solution, the information on the SDS can be indexed and used to easily print out workplace labels.

Additionally, a good solution makes the tracking and reporting of chemicals against regulatory lists easier to manage. Chemicals, down to the ingredient level can be crossed referenced against local, state, federal and international regulatory lists and, in some instances like Tier II reporting, generate a report right out of the system.

Making Chemical Management Technology Work for You
Advances in technology are not just limited to chemical management. Throughout the safety industry, new methods are being introduced to address a wide range of safety concerns. For companies that are just beginning to adopt technology solutions into their facilities, chemical management is a good place to start. Many of today’s electronic chemical management software options are affordable, easy to implement and scalable to fit any chemical safety need.

Whether you’re a stand-alone facility or part of a multi-location enterprise, real-time status of all your chemical hazards is critical to workplace safety. With the final GHS deadline just a few months away, there’s never been a better time to update your chemical management process to reduce risk, simplify compliance and create a safer work environment for all.

Glenn Trout is president and CEO of VelocityEHS. In September 2015, MSDSonline and its wholly-owned subsidiary KMI formed VelocityEHS to reflect the company’s focus on a faster and simpler approach to EHS, sustainability and risk management. Additional information MSDSonline, the VelocityEHS chemical management solution can be found at www.MSDSonline.com. For more information about the VelocityEHS platform,call 888-362-200 or visit 


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