How to store chemicals in a laboratory

How to store chemicals in a laboratory

For laboratories, it is vital to know how to organise chemical storage, and commonly have multiple containers of chemicals, including cupboards, solvent bins, fridges, cylinder containment holds and barrels. However, lab-based chemical storage is much more than just keeping benches clear. It is vital to keep yourself and your colleagues safe through the proper storage of chemicals. Below we talk about a general safety rule of thumb for chemicals storage in the lab. 

Before we break down how to properly store chemicals, it is vital to remember that it is the business owner’s responsibility to ensure that any chemicals are stored correctly in the workplace.

The legislation controlling this is the Dangerous Substances and Atmospheres Regulations 2002, which is part of the UK’s Health and Safety Executive. These regulations include stipulations for adequate ventilation, emergency exits, and contingency plans in the wake of an emergency. Not abiding by rules set out by the HSE can lead to fines to jail time, so it’s essential to be well-versed in the HSE’s guide to chemical storage.

How to organise chemical storage to avoid risks.

When working with chemicals, it’s important to remember that storing them away doesn’t eliminate their hazards. We still need to be careful and attentive to avoid the following risks:

  1. Fire.
  2. Explosion or sudden pressure release (e.g. if a compressed gas tank is punctured).
  3. Reactivity – which can occur when particular chemicals come into contact with others, air or water.
  4. Health Hazards – These can occur when those working with the chemicals are over-exposed, leading to minor skin rashes, organ damage or even death. 
  5. Environmental risks.
  6. Inaccurate or spoiled experiments – By incorrectly storing your chemicals, you leave your experiments or samples at risk of producing false results. 

Storing hazardous chemicals is inherently risky. To manage these risks effectively, you will need to fully understand what materials you’re storing, where they’re kept, and under what conditions. Aspects to consider:

  1. Keep an up-to-date SDS library of all chemicals used: This will allow you to analyse what is in use in your business, helping you to make strategic decisions on usage, alternative products, storage, PPE required, emergency procedures needed, and training you need to provide.
  2. Restrict chemical access: Ensure access is restricted and only accessible to trained employees. Limiting access to only those who need it will reduce the chance of accidents.
  3. Ensure good storage practice: Keep the area well-lit, labelled, signposted and regularly cleaned. Keep the area dry, well-ventilated and at a suitable temperature; install an impenetrable floor that is resistant to the chemicals used and is easy to clean.
  4. Have emergency procedures in place: Evaluate the risks presented by your materials inventory and prepare for the hazards. Provide clear-up kits, PPE and fire extinguishers in key areas. Regularly reassess and train all employees on these emergency procedures.
  5. Regularly inspect your inventory: Assess your containers’ conditions, and ensure no punctures or leaks. Also, make sure established protocols are followed and all chemicals stored are in the correct location.

How should hazardous materials be stored?

All flammable, explosive, corrosive, toxic, carcinogenic, or otherwise dangerous substances must be securely stored. Improperly stored chemicals can be hazardous and can potentially cause a severe accident. A safe chemical storage location should primarily limit the exposure of workers and others to the risks associated with the chemicals and protect people from the hazardous effects that could result from an accidental spillage or chemical reaction. Lastly, you must never store chemicals in the vicinity of food and drinks.

The essential chemicals to separate from each other are strong acids, strong bases, strong oxidisers, and organic or flammable materials. There are various classes of chemicals that require segregated storage, including

  1. Acids
  2. Bases
  3. Highly-flammable liquids
  4. Chlorinated solvents
  5. Noxious chemicals
  6. Toxic chemicals and poisons
  7. Oxidising reagents
  8. Highly reactive compounds
  9. Regulated chemicals
  10. Radioactive materials

Some chemical combinations must be kept separate, such as strong mineral acids and strong bases, and highly-flammable liquids. Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for each chemical are the best source of compatibility information.

Segregating chemicals may require more than physically dividing incompatible substances. These cupboards may need specific properties, such as being fireproof. Some chemicals may need special conditions, such as being stored under nitrogen to exclude air and moisture or at a controlled temperature. All chemicals storage facilities should support the weight of the stored materials and be easy to clean.

How can Techmate help you keep your chemicals stored correctly?

Knowing how to store chemicals in a laboratory environment safely is vital, and failure to store them correctly can disrupt experiments/sampling and put people working in the lab at significant risk. 

Techmate has a wide range of specialist products designed specifically for hazardous materials and chemicals storage, including storage for corrosive liquids, sealing tools, to laboratory spill kits to ensure the safe disposal of hazardous material. Explore the full Techmate range here. 

With Techmate’s extensive range behind you and expertise for what you need in your laboratory environment, your team will stay safe while achieving accurate sampling results every time! Get in touch with the team today.