Safe Storage of Laboratory Chemicals



Department of Safety and Environmental Compliance


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.

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 Safety Data Sheet (SDS) 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.

Basic Rules for Hazardous Chemical Storage:

  • Date all chemicals on receipt
  • Maintain a permanent inventory that is verified annually
  • Establish a separate and secure storage area for chemicals
  • Do not store chemicals in fume hoods or work areas
  • Label storage areas and cabinets to identify the hazardous nature of products stored within
  • Properly identify all unlabeled products before storing
  • Never store flammable chemicals in a standard domestic refrigerator
  • Storing chemicals on the floor, even temporarily, should be avoided
  • Chemicals should not be stored above eye level so that storage circumstances can always be easily evaluated (corroded containers or deteriorating container)
  • Any shelving within the storage area should be firmly secured to the floor and wall
  • Island shelf assemblies should be avoided unless they are secured to the ceiling
  • Lips on storage shelves are recommended to prevent bottles from falling off
  • Wooden shelves are best suited for general storage since they are less effective heat conductors, but metal shelves should be used for flammable to reduce fire hazards
  • Chemical storage under, over or near a sink should be avoided since many chemicals are affected by moisture and can become highly hazardous
  • Chemical storage should be away from heavily traveled areas
  • All storage cabinets or closets should be locked when not in use
  • Stored chemicals should be cool and dry and have caps and lids tightly closed; no chemical should be on the outside of the container
  • Stored chemicals should be arranged in compatible families rather than in alphabetical order
  • Extremely hazardous chemicals should be purchased in as small a quantities are possible
  • Post emergency telephone numbers in the chemical storage areas
  • Install smoke detectors and appropriate fire extinguishers in all chemical storage areas