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5/3/2005
03:51 PM
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Electronic System Cuts Paper And Costs Of Managing Hazardous Materials

Hospitals and other companies that depend heavily on chemicals have thousands of pages of paper with hazardous-material guidelines.

The typical hospital uses thousands of potentially dangerous lab chemicals, cleaning products, and gases--including oxygen--each of which comes with several sheets of government-mandated paper on safety regulations. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, industry-accreditation organizations, and fire departments all have rules about how those chemicals are tracked and managed.

Traditionally, hospitals provide this information via material safety data sheets, which in a hospital can comprise of thousands of pages of paper documents kept in binders on patient floors, in labs, and other departments that use the hazardous products. Some hospitals are beginning to replace the manual processes and paper documentation related to managing and tracking the hazardous materials with electronic systems.

St. Patrick Hospital, a 231-bed facility in Missoula, Mont., kept thousands of pages of paper-based material safety data sheets, or MSDS, in binders throughout its facilities. Now the company electronically stores and manages this data using MSDS Vault, a Web-based system offered via an ASP model from software vendor Actio Corp.

The migration to MSDS Vault more than a year ago has saved St. Patrick's "hundreds of hours in manual work" annually previously spent constantly updating its MSDS binders and files, facilities director Tom Schussler says. St. Patrick Hospital needs to keep MSDS paperwork on each of the 3,000 hazardous materials used by its employees. "Every time there was a modification to inventory, like ordering acetone from a different supplier, we'd have to add this" paper documentation available to employees, he says.

In addition to MSDS Vault, Actio recently introduced into its chemical-management portfolio Actio Gatekeeper, a product that helps users automatically route and track requests, approvals, and purchases of hazardous materials.

Russ McCann, Actio's president and CEO, says often the cost of tracking and managing hazardous materials is two to 10 times more than the price of the chemicals. In a workplace such as a hospital, a biotech company, a semiconductor maker, or other businesses that depend heavily on chemicals in their operations, there can be four to eight pages of documents for each hazardous material present, McCann says.

For an organization with 2,000 chemicals, those documents can cost about $100,000 to create and manage on average, he says. In a hospital environment, the cost of those MSDS processes can be reduced to about $20,000 annually, McCann says. That can go as low as $3,000, he says, if the hospital is a member of the health-care products group-purchasing organization Premier Inc., which offers Actio's systems at discounted rates to its purchasing members.

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