Chemical hazards

Chemical storage and inventory guidelines

UC departments are responsible for safely managing chemical supplies and complying with fire code allowances in facilities under their purview. The guidelines below meet requirements of the 2007 California Fire Code and the Community Right-to-Know Act.

Segregate incompatible chemicals

  • Separate and store chemicals according to compatibility group, not by alphabetical order.
    • Store each compatible group in separate cabinets, or separate them from other chemical groups with tubs (e.g., Polypropylene "Nalgene") or secondary containers.
    • Read Chemical Compatibility Guidelines for more information.
  • Label storage cabinets and tubs by compatibility group. For example, label a tub containing hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and phosphoric acid "Mineral (Inorganic) Acids."
  • Never store flammable liquids in a standard or domestic refrigerator or freezer. They have numerous ignition sources that could ignite vapors. Flammable liquids that must be chilled or frozen require special flammable storage refrigerators or freezers to minimize the risk of fire or explosion.
  • Keep containers capped and closed when not in use.
  • Place hazardous materials on lower shelves. Don't store them overhead. Use seismic restraints to prevent containers from "walking off" open shelves during earthquakes.
  • Protect drains from chemical spills. Don't use sinks for chemical storage or secondary containment.

Select appropriate containers

When transferring a chemical from its original container:

  • Choose sturdy, sealable storage containers made of material compatible with the chemical they'll hold.
  • Contact the EH&S Chemical Hygiene Officer if you have questions about chemical and container compatibility.

Label containers

Law requires chemical container labels to contain specific information. High hazard materials require extra information. Follow these steps for proper labeling:

  • Accurately label chemicals transferred from their original containers with the following required information, written legibly:
    • Chemical name or abbreviation
    • Concentration
    • Hazard warning
  • Include the following additional information required for chemicals that degrade over time, peroxide formers, and air and water reactives:
    • Date received
    • Date opened
    • Date tested
  • Prominently post a chemical abbreviation sheet in the lab when abbreviations are used on labels.
  • Label refrigerators used for chemical storage with a "No Food Storage" sticker. Label refrigerators that are not approved flammable storage units with a "No Flammable Storage" sticker.

Regulated and high hazard materials

Particularly high-hazard materials and substances regulated by law are subject to special storage requirements.

Environmental rooms

Caution: Never use environmental rooms (also called cold/ warm rooms) for storage of flammable or other hazardous materials.

  • Many ignition sources exist and little or no air circulates from outside.
  • Small quantities of flammable or hazardous materials (500 ml) may be used in these spaces.

Hazardous chemical waste

Read about how to:

Chemical inventory records

Make the most of your investment and prevent chemical degradation over time by accurately tracking what you buy, use, and store.

  • Include the following in your inventory records:
    • Chemical name
    • Abbreviations your lab or shop uses for chemical agents
    • Quantity of chemical stored
    • Chemical Abstract Number (CAS #)
    • Compatibility group
  • Important:Chemicals that degrade over time require additional record-keeping. These include peroxide formers, air and water reactives, and other time-sensitive materials.
    • Carefully track the date received, opened, and tested.
    • Read Organic Peroxide Formers for information on identifying, testing, and managing organic peroxide forming chemicals in your inventory.
    Note: You may need to verify your chemical inventory periodically with Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) and during regular audits.

Keep inventories lean

Minimize inventory tasks, maintenance, and the risks associated with chemical supplies by restricting the amount of material you order and store:

  • Avoid duplicative inventory orders.
  • Order the minimum quantity of chemicals you need for the near future. Don't stockpile chemicals.
    • A 6-month throughput of material is a good ordering target.
  • Reduce your stored chemical supplies to keep your facility fire code compliant. Overstock and bulk orders have negative effects on the entire facility. It can:
    • Lead to fire codes violations by exceeding the exempt amount of hazardous materials for your facility
    • Limit storage space for colleagues sharing the facility
    • Increase safety hazards and risks
  • Promptly dispose of unwanted chemicals through the EH&S Hazardous Waste Program at no charge to the researcher.

Fire code compliance

Among the challenges facing UC is ensuring unhindered research while managing chemical inventories within allowable California fire code (CFC) limits.

Read about how the CFC affects chemical storage and inventories below:

  • These variables determine chemical allowances for each building:
    • Building occupancy
    • Exempt amount (or maximum allowable quantity)
    • Control areas
    • Mitigating circumstances
  • Fire code limits differ by building, building floor, or a defined storage area in some cases, and are subject to many variables.
  • Pyrophoric materials are not allowed in unsprinkled buildings.
  • Get more information about chemical storage limitations for your facility:
    • If you are a research employee, contact the EH&S Research Assistance Program specialist assigned to your building.
    • If you are a non-research employee, contact an EH&S General Safety specialist.

Annual hazardous materials inventory

EH&S performs a pre-scheduled annual inventory of every facility where hazardous chemicals are used or stored as part of the Hazardous Materials Business Plan required by the County.

Hazardous Materials Business Plan (HMBP):

  • Provides valuable information for local fire and hazmat departments responding to emergencies on campus
  • Helps UC achieve chemical inventories within allowable fire code limits (see the Fire code compliance section above)
  • Encourages discovery and proper disposal of degraded or unwanted chemicals

Hazardous materials are inventoried for the HMBP if the substance is used, handled, or stored in quantities greater or equal to the following:

  • Listed extremely hazardous materials (40 CFR Part 355, appendix A), including poisons, oxidizers, teratogens, etc.
  • Any compressed gas
  • 250 grams of solid substance
  • 100 milliliters of liquid substance

Non-manufacturer containers, buffers, or small quantities of low hazard chemicals are not tracked for HMBP reporting.

What to expect:

  • EH&S HMBP technicians perform scheduled annual chemical inventories that include:
    • Checking barcodes in the database
    • Visual confirmation of inventory
    • Consultation with the lab or shop contact to determine if there have been major changes
    • Checking for a 2-fold increase or decrease in any 1 hazard class
  • When completed, the lab or shop's principal investigator and Area Safety Coordinator receive an electronic copy of their inventory.
  • When EH&S technicians find chemical inventories unsafe or out of compliance with fire codes, EH&S notifies:
    • The UC department with oversight of the facility
    • UC campus Chemical Safety and Surveillance Committee
    • UC campus fire marshal and the state fire marshal