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6 Ways to ID a Quality Chemical Inventory Database

Posted by Matt Segal on May 6, 2019 1:38:01 PM

A robust chemical database forms the foundation of a good chemical inventory system. It acts as both the skeleton and the brain, providing structure and information critical to higher-order tasks like reporting.

In order to get the most out of your chemical inventory software, you'll need to look for a system powered by a quality chemical database. In this article, we’ll share some important features of a good chemical database you can be on the lookout for as you try to determine if a chemical inventory system is the right fit for you.

Why is a chemical database so important?

To understand why a chemical database is so important, let's back up a moment: Imagine your organization is undergoing some renovations, or you have a regulator coming for a visit and you need to calculate the total amounts of chemicals in a particular control area or zone.

Without a chemical database, this would be an extremely labor-intensive task. You’d need to:

  1. Locate all the chemicals stored in these locations
  2. Cross-reference the chemical names with the IBC regulation and manually assign hazard classifications to each one
  3. Figure out much of each substance you have (including mixtures…)
  4. Convert these amounts to the appropriate units (cubic feet or gallons. Thanks, imperial system.)
  5. Compare the totals to applicable limits
  6. Double check everything to make sure the information you gathered is accurate and complete, transcribed with high fidelity, and all calculations were performed and recorded correctly

A good chemical database solves this problem by putting all the chemical information you need at your fingertips — including chemical names and synonyms, amounts (counting mixtures), hazard details, regulatory implications, and applicable limits.

If your chemical database can’t easily perform a critical task like this, chances are you (and your organization!) deserve something better.

So, what makes a quality chemical database?

Of course, chemical databases can vary widely in their features and functionality — and not every chemical inventory system will even come with a built-in database.

Here are 6 things to look for in a quality chemical database:

1. Hazard data is integrated into the database and tied to specific chemicals

Integrating hazard data with your chemical inventory gives you full visibility into where hazardous chemicals are located without having to toggle between different systems. Chemicals and their associated hazards can be viewed side by side, and you can quickly search for chemicals by hazard class within a single workflow.

For example, you can search your entire organization or specific buildings for compressed flammable gases. Find out who has them, what kind, and how much. This enables managers to stay on top of risks, and researchers to get instant information about the chemicals in their workspace.

2. It returns search results quickly

It might not seem like a few chemical lookups would have much impact on your day, but the time spent staring at the spinning cursor waiting for results to load can quickly add up (especially if you have some days with hundreds of searches). 

If the system takes ages to retrieve information and ties up your computer, you’ll find yourself tapping your foot and cursing under your breath each time you need to perform a search. In fact, you might find it easier to scroll and locate the information yourself. 

Faster search speed means less time getting frustrated and waiting for answers, and more time focusing on your actual work.

3. It actually helps you find what you’re looking for

A single chemical can go by many different names. For example, the well-known chemical rubbing alcohol is also known as 2-propanol, propyl alcohol, isopropanol, and isopropyl alcohol. It can also be abbreviated as IPA (beer lovers beware).

With as many as 85,000 known toxic chemicals in use today, it’s impossible to keep track of all these different names and abbreviations. Often, people only know a chemical by its common name, or only know part of the name. Other times, they know the chemical name but are unsure of the spelling. In any case, it can be difficult to locate the right chemical information, which can lead to errors, omissions, or duplications.

A good chemical database assists with chemical lookup by bringing up predictions as you type in the search bar (similar to a Google search). It also gives you synonyms for each chemical, so you can quickly find all of the possible naming variations and abbreviations. At the same time, this ensures that one chemical entered into the system under two or more different names is still saved under a single record. Preventing these sorts of duplication errors ahead of time will also save you an enormous amount of work down the road.

This one is particularly critical for rapidly-growing smaller companies that need a sustainable chemical inventory solution If your solution doesn't have data that is interconnected, any burden present is going to be amplified and hold you back even more.

4. It’s not just a garbage dump of chemicals

With tens of thousands of known chemicals, it might seem like a good idea to add as many records as possible to your database. Unfortunately, it is extremely challenging to maintain quality of information when droves of new data suddenly find their way in.

Indiscriminately adding chemicals and information from the internet can result in thousands of superfluous and low-quality records that slow your system down and make it more difficult to maintain. Often, uncurated data sets have duplicate or incomplete entries that can confuse users and thwart your attempts to keep your chemical inventory accurate .

A quality chemical database strikes the balance between 'too much' and 'not enough' information, with each chemical added for a reason. As a rule of thumb, the system should contain 90-98% of the chemicals you'd find in most research organizations, as well as facilities chemicals like paints and cleaning products. This can only be accomplished by a team or individual who finds, organizes, and carefully adds chemical information hand-picked for your industry.

5. You can trust that the information is accurate

When it comes to chemical information, accuracy is everything. Small differences like a methyl group can cause big differences when it comes to hazard information. That’s why it’s so important that you feel confident that the information in your chemical database is correct. 

There are many reasons a database might contain bad data.  . A database designed for chemists looking for physical properties, thrown together from a collection of product catalogues, or blindly thrown together from SDS’s only gives you fragmented or incomplete information. 

A database that’s built for chemical inventory goes deeper — giving you multiple layers of insight that help you locate the information you need. You can see chemical names, CAS numbers, regulatory information, fire code limits, and hazard details for chemicals at your organization.

6. It is regularly updated

The list of known chemicals and their hazards grows every day. Even if the database you use starts out accurate, it will need to be updated as new chemicals and revised safety information for existing chemicals is received.

With some databases, the burden of updating chemical information falls on your organization. Locating and entering all this data is no small task. Ideally, you should look for a system where the vendor is responsible for updating the database. That way your team is free to focus on more valuable tasks.

Another key consideration: As new chemicals, hazards, and regulations are added, it’s important to ensure that standards for database information are upheld. For example, when updated chemical safety information is added, old data needs to be removed. Otherwise, you could end up with two entries for the same chemical — which makes it difficult to know if you’re looking at the correct information and can lead to serious errors.

Key takeaways 

  • A quality chemical database is a prerequisite for an effective chemical inventory system.
  • To be useful, hazard and regulatory data must be easily searchable and integrated alongside your chemical inventory.
  • Integrating hazard data with an intuitive chemical inventory system drastically reduces the amount of time and resources needed when it comes time for complex regulatory reports.
  • Look for a database that is hand-curated by chemical and regulatory experts to ensure each entry is relevant, accurate, and up-to date.

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