Schools house hundreds, even thousands, of chemicals that power classroom experiments, degrease tools, control pests, and disinfect facilities. Staff and student safety can be compromised if chemicals are mislabeled, expired, or stored improperly. Mismanaged chemicals can also saddle organizations with unbudgeted costs.
You should clean out your chemical inventory at least once a year. Summer is good time because facilities are largely or entirely unoccupied. Follow these four steps to do the job safely and cost-effectively.
Step 1. Take stock of what you have
Start by getting a comprehensive picture of your inventory across the organization. Remember to include maintenance offices, custodial closets, science classrooms, and automotive shops.
Your inventory should document, at minimum:
- Chemical name
- Container size
- What the container is made of (glass, plastic)
- Chemical quantity
- Chemical Abstracts Service number
- Physical state (solid, liquid, gas)
The Fund recommends that members share their chemical inventory with local fire departments, law enforcement, and EMS. First responders might need that information if a serious chemical-related explosion, fire, spill, or other emergency happens at one of your facilities.
Before you move to step two, assign trained staff to safely clean the storage area. Brushing out residue is the first step. Cleaning products could cause chemical reactions, so staff should wipe down shelves with water a couple of times.
Step 2. Decide what you should keep
You do not have to keep chemicals just because they still have shelf life and they are in good condition. Use your organization’s approved product list as a starting point for earmarking chemicals to retain. Then, think about whether you really need the chemicals you plan to keep. If the answer is no, your policies might permit you to donate them to other schools in the district.
- Maintain no more than a three-year supply of each chemical unless there is a valid need to keep more on hand.
- Consult Section 7 of the safety data sheet (SDS) for storage and compatibility guidance.
- Make sure chemicals are in their original containers or appropriate secondary containers. For example, avoid Tupperware, jelly jars, water bottles, and anything else commonly used to store food or beverages.
- Label containers properly, and stick to two rows of chemicals per shelf if possible.
- Store flammables in metal cabinets.
Step 3. Update SDSs
Texas law requires public employers to keep an SDS for every chemical on site, regardless of quantity. SDSs can be hard copy or electronic, as long as they are readily available to employees and emergency responders. If you uncover outdated SDSs or material safety data sheets, which are obsolete, contact the manufacturer, distributor, or importer.
This is also a good time to ensure employees have been trained to interpret SDSs and chemical container labels. Employers are required to maintain training records for at least five years. Keep the attendance roster, and document each training session, the date the training was given, subjects covered, and instructor names.
Step 4. Prepare for disposal
Wrap up the cleanout process by disposing of expired chemicals. The same goes for chemicals stored in containers that are unlabeled, leaking, damaged, or do not have proper lids. It is illegal – and dangerous – to pour chemicals down the drain or put them in the trash. Instead, hire a lab packing company that specializes in safe, compliant chemical disposal.
Get the most value from lab packing:
- Combine chemicals from across the organization into a single lab pack, but do not move the chemicals from their respective areas. The vendor will pick up from satellite locations.
- Label everything you can. Lab packing companies charge more for unidentified chemicals.
- Ask the vendor about paper packs, where a chemist reduces your administrative burden by creating an inventory of your lab pack chemicals remotely.
- Consider lab pack vendor recommendations from other districts, and get at least three quotes.
Beware of buying in bulk
The chemical cleanout process might uncover gaps in your inventory. When it’s time to fill those gaps, remember that it is not always fiscally wise to buy in bulk. Consider hydrochloric acid (HCL), a chemical commonly used in science experiments.
Let’s say you can buy one ounce of HCL for $20. If you bump your quantity up to five ounces, you pay $30, or just six dollars per ounce. It sounds like a good deal, right?
What if you only use one-half ounce of HCL each year, and the container expires after two years? You will have to dispose of the remaining three ounces, which could add $200 to your lab pack bill. The few dollars you saved on the front end cost you money over the long haul.
Explore cost-effective online training
Fund Workers’ Compensation program members benefit from online training at no cost. Each course was developed around the unique risks facing schools. The training package includes a short course about managing chemical spills. Members who upgrade to the full suite of courses at a discount can access other chemical topics, including hazard communication, SDSs, integrated pest management.
How to manage summer risks
Taking charge of your chemical inventory represents a huge step toward managing risk during the summer. So, what else can your schools do to protect people and property?
Reference our risk management checklist for tips on managing heat illness, protecting unoccupied facilities, preventing tire blowouts, and stamping out unemployment compensation fraud.