User story: Hazardous Materials Labels – the most important side issue in the laboratory world

Researchers in the laboratory, but also staff in routine analytics, use numerous beakers, flasks and vials that contain hazardous materials. If those containers are not appropriately labeled, there is the risk of misidentification. A labeling system, which is practical, quick, and flexible in terms of location and time, increases safety in the laboratory.

This text was first published in the print an online edition of LABORPRAXIS June 2022 and translated to English; original LABORPRAXIS article (German)

AUTHORS:

Dr.-Ing Edda Möhle, Head of analytics department, Fraunhofer-Institut für Umwelt-, Sicherheits- und Energietechnik UMSICHT, Oberhausen | Dr. Claudio Rolli; Founder and CEO, FLUICS GmbH, Munich

Especially in research, project teams must be flexible both in terms of personnel and locations. The teams often consist of permanent staff that cooperates with ever-changing graduates and students. Here it is absolutely essential that containers with hazardous materials are clearly recognizable as such. In cases of tests, materials and intermixtures which are used only internally, the guidelines for laboratory safety in Germany (TRGS 201) permits simplified labeling in the “classification and identification during handling of hazardous materials.” Naming the material or the intermixture and showing the appropriate symbol of the hazardous material are sufficient. For the laboratory personnel, however, it is equally important that the test containers can be attributed to certain projects and personnel via a name and a date.

The measures prescribed for laboratory safety are not always easily implemented in practical terms. Especially the labeling of hazardous materials continues to be a demanding and time-consuming activity to this day, although the regulations of a globally harmonized system for the classification and labeling of chemicals (GHS), along with the European CLP ordinance, went into effect more than 10 years ago. Generally, most laboratories in Germany follow the simplified labeling requirements according to TRGS 201 (see additional information in the box below). This includes the laboratories of Fraunhofer UMSICHT.

Numerous tests are analyzed and intermixtures and dilutions are created and stored there. The labeling of hazardous materials in their containers with the appropriate health warnings prevent confusion in the laboratory and, therefore, dangerous reactions in the handling of materials and intermixtures. The labeling must occur in accordance with a conducted hazard analysis and choice of the appropriate warning symbol which point to the appropriate protective measures. To find the right technical tool that offers a quick and easy way to print out labels with the GHS symbols was a challenge for the team of the Fraunhofer Institute. Because, in addition to the colored GHS symbols, it had to be possible to identify individual tests. In addition, the labels had to be water- as well as solvent-resistant and, at the same time, easily removable.

These are the requirements for label printing in the laboratory

For containers which are in use longer than a few days it may be acceptable to create labels on the office computer, print them out on a laser printer, cover them with a transparent film and affix them to the container. However, this is too labor-intensive for the daily labeling of tests. Also, the removal of labels from flasks, which have to be washed and reused, is too laborious with labels generally available in the market and, partially, not even possible without the use of solvents.

In many laboratories the use of preprinted warning symbol stickers has been established. In this case, the required sticker combinations have to be searched for. This is labor-intensive, and on smaller flasks there is often only space for a single sticker. In addition, the name of the material has to be included. This goes quickly with commercially available marker pens; however they are not solvent-proof. Also, some handwriting is not easily legible for all colleagues.

In addition to the described general requirements which apply to most research and analytical laboratories to ensure lab safety, the Fraunhofer Institute has submitted additional requirements for a modern labeling system:

  • Creating and printing of labels in a few seconds
  • Usage by the entire staff of the laboratory, even without registration, and flexibility regarding location and time
  • Print history visible to each member of the staff
  • Possibility of additional test identification (date, name, department)
  • Possibility of importing the institute’s own catalog of hazardous materials
  • Printing of different label sizes on a single system
  • Small footprint and printing either from office computers or on tablets in the laboratory
  • Solvent-resistant labels which are removable after use without residue and can withstand temperatures between -80°C and 100°C (-112°F and 212°F)
Labeling of hazardous materials with RAPID LABEL – registration and tracking with FLUICS CONNECT

This is how the quick creation of hazardous material labels can be achieved

In their search for an appropriate labeling system the Fraunhofer UMSICHT approached FLUICS GmbH, the developer of, among other things, the lab inventory system FLUICS CONNECT. This system has already been successfully implemented at the Fraunhofer Institute. With their expertise in the development of mobile apps and the printing of labels in the lab environment, a new label printing station was developed within a few weeks which meets all of the above requirements.

The label printing station consists of the following components: compact label printer, special label materials and software which can be downloaded from any mobile app store or be opened in a web browser (tested for Chrome, Firefox and Safari). The specially manufactured labels are extremely tough and resistant – not only to water, but also to strong solvents, such as alcohol, acetone, toluol. A special removable adhesive permits the removal of the labels without residue after use. In accordance with the CLP Safety Ordinance, labels of different sizes can be printed, as needed, for small 10 ml snap-on lid flasks up to a 3-l storage vessel.

Usage of the printing station occurs by various staff members via a web browser on a PC or Mac as well as via a mobile app for Android and iOS tablets and staff members’ smart phones. There is no need for registration. The software may be used by several users at the same time. When a new label is needed, the name of the material is simply entered and the hazardous material symbols are chosen in accordance with safety measures and transferred from a list. If no test dates or information regarding the classification of the material or intermixture are available, the field “untested research material” may be chosen. The username and the date are automatically added during print and appear on the label. An especially practical feature is available when a previously printed or slightly changed label is needed. The print history may be searched either via a text search or by scanning a QR code on the label, and the same or a slightly changed label may be printed.

FLUICS RAPID LABEL Printing Station in the laboratory of the Fraunhofer Institute

If, as in the case of the Fraunhofer UMSICHT, there is an institute-owned hazardous materials catalog, it can quickly be imported as an Excel, CSV or text file into the RAPID LABEL Application and then serve as the basis for a materials search. If the catalog also contains additional information, such as a signal word, hazardous material symbols, CAS numbers, as well as H- codes, they will appear on the label. A building block for the successful digitalization of the laboratory In the cooperative project between the analytics lab and the software manufacturer introduced here, and the pursuant implementation of the developed RAPID LABEL Software, the Fraunhofer Institute has been successful in implementing a practical and time-efficient way for their staff to label hazardous materials in the laboratory and the pilot plant environment. It increases the safety in the laboratory and minimizes the possibility of transposing containers and causing dangerous reactions. The digitalization of laboratory procedures, driven by the new printing stations, and especially the use of mobile remote terminals, such as tablets and smart phones, has been quickly and positively accepted by the staff. They are well-armed for the next safety inspection when it comes to the labeling of hazardous materials. Therefore, FLUICS RAPID LABEL is an additional successful step toward digitalization of the laboratory.

Screenshot of the FLUICS RAPID LABEL mobile app on a smart phone
Screenshot of the FLUICS RAPID LABEL web app

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION

Mandatory information for labeling hazardous materials in the lab

In Europe the labeling of hazardous materials is governed by the CLP Ordinance, which follows the Global Harmonized System for the Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). In a normal lab environment in Germany, the simplified labeling according to TRGS 201 may be used. This requires the following information at minimum: Name of material and chosen hazardous material symbol (according to GHS). The labels should be resistant to water and solvents. Additional safety warnings (signal word and H-codes), user and fill date are helpful and prevent mistaken identity. Attention should be paid to the size of the container when choosing GHS symbols (red diamond with black symbol on a white background).

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