Safe Storage of Laboratory Chemicals

The purpose of this section is to identify and classify hazardous chemicals that are commonly used in a research environment. Once identified, each laboratory must establish a policy to provide for the proper storage, handling and use of these chemicals.

Storage Practices:

All laboratories should be inspected periodically to identify which system chemicals are stored by. More than likely, at least one of the following examples of poor chemical storage practices will be found in the laboratory.

  • Chemicals stored in random order
  • Chemical stored in alphabetical order
  • Chemicals stored by poorly chosen categories, such as all acids (inorganic, organic and strong oxidizers) stored together
  • Chemicals stored in hood
  • Flammables stored in domestic refrigerator
  • Food and drinks stored along side of chemicals in refrigerators
  • Overcrowded shelves requiring manipulation of several containers to remove the container of interest
  • Chemicals left on bench top where last used or shoved into out-of-the-way location to make room for ongoing experiments
  • Inventory control is poor or non-existent, containers are not dated; containers are obviously ancient
  • Some containers have no labels or labeled in such a manner that does not adequately describe the contents or hazards
  • Containers stored on the floor
  • Caps on containers are missing, deteriorated or badly fitting

Accidents resulting from poor storage techniques are preventable. In most cases, poor storage practices have not yet caused a disaster. However the potential for such a disaster is extremely high. Many of the storage requirements presently recommended have been learned through adverse experiences and thus incorporated into regulations. Certain of these regulations, specifically those related to storage and handling of carcinogens, are not to be ignored. The specific Material Safety Data Sheet(MSDS) should be consulted before use and when questions arise concerning chemical properties and associated hazards.

Use of appropriate storage cabinets, for each type of hazardous chemical, can significantly reduce risks, whereas inappropriate cabinets increase the dangers. Wooden storage cabinets for acids are safer and more durable than metal cabinets, unless a metal cabinet is specially treated with a corrosion-resistant coating. Likewise, specially designed fireproof metal cabinets are preferable for storage of flammable materials, since they can maintain flammable liquids below vaporization temperatures, even in a fire. Steel cabinets common in most labs are highly inappropriate for storage of flammables since they allow heat from a fire to be quickly transferred to the cabinet shelves. This results in rapid vaporization of the flammable liquid, bottle breakage and accelerated fire spreading.

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Last date changed: January 29, 2009