Industry Insight

Why IT is crucial for managing risks at dangerous goods warehouses

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Focusing on the use of databases for dangerous goods

Logistics specialists adopt many different measures to ensure safety when storing hazardous goods. The infrastructure of specific dangerous goods warehouses has to be adapted to the requirements of the products, for example. One aspect that is often neglected here is IT equipment. Many business sites are still operating with safety data sheets traditionally printed on paper alongside their typical ERP and WMS systems. This is not only inconvenient in practical terms but can also prevent important countermeasures from being taken if fire breaks out. Deliberate databases for dangerous goods provide help here.

The name says it all: dangerous goods can pose a hazard to human beings and the environment. At the same time, chemicals & co. fulfil important functions in the production of various applications – ranging from industrial plants to everyday cleaning agents. Companies operating in the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries require warehouse infrastructure that meets the legal regulations for their supply chains. The logistics system should take into consideration safety and environment regulations but also enable a smooth flow of goods. It is therefore important to rely on experienced logistics specialists that have the necessary expertise in storing dangerous goods and meet the corresponding challenges.

Various measures for safe handling

It is necessary to have the relevant certificates and permits for handling hazardous goods. A dangerous goods warehouse must primarily meet two conditions to guarantee safe operations: on the one hand, it must report the type and quantity of the substances in storage to the fire brigade and the local public authorities. The facility must be connected to the direct works fire brigade, if available, or be looked after by the nearest large-scale fire brigade. On the other hand, the warehouse must make safety data sheets available for grading substances as part of the risk management system. There have been several changes here during the last few years: in the old days, the authorities insisted that a current safety data sheet for each product, which was printed in German, should be made available to all the employees at the site. This caused a great deal of work as the warehouse operators had to request thousands of new data sheets from the supplier every year and replace the old ones. In order to manage the data more efficiently and more sustainably, warehouses have increasingly moved towards preparing digital sheets.

From manual to digital data management

Digital, however, does not automatically mean efficiency in many cases. Many warehouses, for example, hang up a printed Excel list, as this fulfils their official obligation. But this has numerous disadvantages: the lists are normally hard to analyse and this makes it difficult to find the relevant information. The lists are often not kept up to date either. The quality of the master data, however, is the fundamental condition for smooth processes. Paper documents are also an extremely poor medium in case of a disaster as they can be lost or destroyed. Web-based databases for dangerous goods, which communicate with the warehouse management system via an interface, are an alternative and more advanced solution. They make available the data related to the quantities in storage in the best possible way and in real time – and this includes hazard statements, categories of substances, weights and packaging units. They then serve as the basis for the safety of the business site in combination with the handling instructions and the safety data sheets. They also encourage employees to keep the data up to date in the clearly organised software. This means that it takes far less time to look for relevant data.

Databases for dangerous goods make stocks visible

The main goal of a database for dangerous goods is to ensure that any work is performed in line with the statutory regulations. This kind of database has the advantage that it meets the requirements of the public authorities and also guarantees that the employees work safely and responsibly. Warehouse operators can also better act when seeking to sell their services. Where are the quantity thresholds? Can the warehouse accommodate any more products? How can the site position itself in the market? If the databases are specially designed for logistics and warehousing, the tools can break down the stock management to the level of individual kilograms and clocking operations down to the minute. This is particularly important as stocks for various customers are often consolidated at one business site. This is less relevant in production industries such as chemical parks because they work with planned quantities. However, logistics companies have to be able to precisely account for any movement of dangerous substances.

Worst case scenario: What happens if a disaster strikes?

The horror scenario in sectors working with dangerous goods is if a facility catches fire or explodes. However, the accident may be less serious – very small quantities may leak in the warehouse. During these kinds of incidents, the digital data related to the stocks forms the basis for understanding what has happened, where the causes may lie and whether the work performed at the site complied with the regulations. Which products are involved? Was there a critical mass at the ignition point? Which handling and evacuation measures are available? Among other things, the fire brigade has a clear overview of the various warehouse categories and the extinguishing agents that need to be used. If a large amount of a dangerous substance is involved, the fire brigade can, for example, decide to stop extinguishing the fire from a certain point onwards and simply allow the fire at the facility to take its natural course. It can also assess whether the residents in a certain surrounding radius require protection and issue the relevant emergency alerts.

Using the IT tool as an antiterrorism measure

Safety data sheets are crucial for the safety of any business site. At the same time, they provide sensitive information about the composition and use of dangerous substances. In this case, a database for dangerous goods acts as an outline tool for the purpose of providing protection against terrorism. The warehouse operator must ensure that it does not store any combination of substances which could together create an even more hazardous mixture. Otherwise, the result may be rather like building a bomb or causing a violent reaction that makes extinguishing the substances impossible. The logistics specialist obtains essential safety data for prevention purposes and summaries of information about products and quantities which are subject to certain monitoring procedures. Other important information may involve export bans for particular substances and this forms the fundamental basis for proactively working with customers.

Recognising a responsible logistics specialist

One thing is certain: the risks when storing dangerous goods are high – so handling them responsibly is all the more important. Some logistics specialists operate a so-called handling depot as hazardous substances may be stored temporarily without a permit for 24 hours. Offering and using a database for dangerous goods is an important criterion for potential users of a warehouse site to exclude certain operators so that they can distinguish between serious logistics specialists with processes that meet authorisation requirements and dubious providers.

In addition to guaranteeing the highest levels of safety at a site, a database makes it possible for customers to use it individually for other advantages downstream. Customers with complex logistics processes and requirements in particular benefit from needs-based reporting; this makes the stocks and movements of the goods within the supply chain visible and enables comparisons to be drawn. As a result, using a database for dangerous goods becomes a competitive advantage and provides users with a tool so that they can fully understand their own business.

How it all works

Rhenus has extensive knowledge in the field of hazardous goods. A current white paper provides information on guidelines for the storage of chemicals and hazardous goods.

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