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Business & Regulation Business Practice

On the Side of Caution

Risk is a byword for the pharma sector. Though we all know it covers hygiene standards, the safety and well-being of your team are of equal importance. Internal corporate social responsibility (CSR) is high on the executive agenda and there’s increasing commercial evidence about the value of being more pedantic when it comes to our employees’ welfare. Harming people is expensive – and no-one wants to go to jail...

If we break health and safety down to a cost analysis, it really does pay to look after your staff. As a sector, pharma requires its employees to be, by definition, skilled professionals with salaries above the national average. And that brings about an interesting dilemma. The specialized roles that have been developed to sustain the pharmaceutical industry can be the cause of significant fallout. When inevitable staff absences occur, temporary cover can be difficult to find and the impact on ongoing projects can be significant.

With staff likely to be working with toxic, noxious, or otherwise unpleasant chemicals and items heated to over 100 ⁰C, health and safety is, by right, a prominent feature in protecting the wellbeing of employees. Regardless of what preventative safety provisions and guidelines you put in place, it’s still wise to mitigate risk by preparing for the worst. For example, the cost of installing eyewash stations and showers at strategic points around the lab is going to be much less than a pay-out for an eye injury. It’s always better to be safe than sorry – and that goes for all parties. Every second counts when something caustic is in the eye, so having a station within a few seconds reach and easy to use when blinded (and panicked) demonstrates solid due diligence – and provides a strong visual reminder of the due care required from staff.  

The same principle applies to autoclaves, regularly chosen for robust sterilization. How are people expected to handle products that have just been sterilized, when touching can lead to burns? You should ensure you have countermeasures and procedures in place to prevent injuries. 

Less dramatic but still worth looking at closely is health and safety’s younger sibling, occupational health. Although a back strain may not be life threatening, it can certainly be a major impediment to someone’s quality of life. It also hits the bottom line due to treatment and time off work, so it’s wise to reduce the associated risks where possible.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the second greatest cause of lost working days in the UK, beaten only by stress and anxiety. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK reveal that the number of days sacrificed to the likes of muscle aches and bad backs totalled £6.6 million in 2017–2018. To cap things off, the average number of days lost per person for these types of conditions was 14 days per year. And that’s without counting the so-called “soft costs” of reduced efficiency and management time to address staffing shortages. 

Businesses really can't discount occupational health as simply “nice to have” and it is a sensible move to train up an internal specialist as a healthy workplace champion. Also, bringing in a third-party professional to conduct a workplace assessment is money well spent.

There are some best practices already well-established across the sector. Notably, it's now standard practice to rotate teams across activities throughout the day to minimize the risk of repetitive strain injury. We should applaud such initiatives, but they don’t solve the fundamental issue: lab work is usually sedentary and this can be extremely bad for your staff’s health.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a distinct uplift in demand for standing tables, height adjustable workbenches, ergonomic seating and anti-fatigue matting. We can’t be entirely sure to what extent ordering patterns are the result of proactive decisions to improve health and safety provision, or whether in response to an individual requirement, but there does seem to be a correlation between the uptake and the introduction of the updated health and safety guidelines in many countries. In the UK, for example, updated guidelines on Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences were introduced in February 2016. And the average Health and Safety penalty has grown to over £126,000. As fines are aligned to organizational turnover, corporate payouts grew to almost £70 million in 2016–17 – very unhealthy indeed!

Looking at sales trends, businesses seem to be taking the new rules and their responsibilities very seriously. Or our at least our customers are! And we can expect health and safety to creep even further up the corporate agenda given that a whole industry has grown around personal injury.

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About the Author
Sue Springett

Commercial Manager at Teknomek

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