3 risks of working in pharmaceutical manufacturing 

 

The pharmaceutical industry is probably not the first industry you think of when you come across articles about workplace hazards. But, in fact, they occur more than you might imagine. The industry displays a clean image with different authorities regulating and controlling each step. Producing the medicine in a clean and sterile environment is the first step to ensure the quality of the products. After all, when an industry is responsible for the production of medicine, quality is of the essence, and danger must be zero.

But while the finished products may help save patients’ lives, they can be dangerous to health workers who have to work with some chemicals during the production process. Producing medication may involve exposure to toxic industrial chemicals, which can harm the health of pharmaceutical manufacturing employees. And it can seem annoying to wear these white suits and safety equipment the entire working day but having the proper equipment when dealing with dangerous chemicals can be a lifesaver.  We can find many examples of things going wrong and taking a dark turn in a pharmaceutical unit. Still, a recent one would make more sense: just three days before this blog was published, six people were killed, and at least 15 sustained burn injuries when a reactor explosion took place due to an apparent gas leak at a pharmaceutical manufacturing unit in India.

But many guidelines are put in place to ensure pharma manufacturing workers’ safety. If these guidelines are properly met, the pharmaceutical industry can actually be a very safe environment to work in. Manufacturers should follow these guidelines step by step, which will allow them to eliminate all possible dangers in the workplace. 
So, what does pharmaceutical manufacturing entail? What are the exact risks one can encounter when working in pharmaceutical manufacturing? How can those risks be eliminated or limited? 

 

What does pharmaceutical manufacturing mean?

So, let’s start from the very beginning. Before a medicine reaches the patients, it goes through many different steps. The manufacturing process takes place in the early stages and involves the primary and secondary processing of pharmaceutical ingredients. Primary processing is the production of an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and secondary processing includes converting active ingredients into suitable products for patients. Once the manufacturing part is completed, the next steps, such as packaging and distribution, follow. As you can already imagine, most of the potential risks of harm in the pharmaceutical industry revolve around the manufacturing process. It is the step where the medicine is produced, and many chemicals and toxic substances come into play.

This problem only becomes more relevant when one considers the size of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry; it is an enormous industry of vital importance. According to market research, the global pharmaceutical manufacturing market size had an estimated value of USD 426 Billion in 2021 and is estimated to achieve a market size of USD 1,6 trillion by 2030.

The pharmaceutical industry is strictly regulated, but workplace hazards still happen. A 2018 study that examines occupational injuries in a pharmaceutical company explains that threats were found in all of the studied units. The overall results indicated high threats in the pharmaceutical company’s departments. The same study points out the different hazards that affect healthcare workers, including injuries as severe as inhalation of toxic vapors and gases, electricity burns, spills of acids and caustic substances, radiation exposure, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about the development process of drugs, you can read our article about how APIs get discovered at he first place. 

 What are the risks?

Pharmaceutical workers might get exposed to danger in various workplace settings. But the most significant risk might arise, particularly with people whose job duties involve compounding medications. They may be exposed to dangerous levels of toxic substances. But what kind of harmful substances?

– Biological hazards

The pharmaceutical industry frequently experiments with infectious pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They make groundbreaking discoveries and find new ways to treat people every day. But pharmaceutical workers and researchers must regularly handle these dangerous organisms to drive this innovation. Contamination can lead to several safety concerns.

– Chemical hazards

Working with dangerous chemicals is an important part of the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s workday. Many chemicals used in primary and secondary processing can be highly dangerous to the health of employees if they are accidentally ingested or inhaled. Chemical hazards include various substances, such as flammable/explosive materials, liquids or gasses, vapors, solids, smoke, fog, etc

– Physical hazards

Also common in pharmaceutical manufacturing environments. It usually relates to the dangers caused by the environment. It includes examples such as noise, temperature, humidity, cold stress (hypothermia), heat stress (hyperthermia), and radiation. You might be wondering why radiation occurs in a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. Actually, radiation might take place when UV lights are required in some pharmaceutical operations. Uv lights are a form of non-ionizing radiation that can damage cells’ DNA (genes), which may lead to cancer. Vitamin D production, for example, involves the use of UV light. 

When these substances are in the form of a powder, liquid, or cream, the worker may be exposed to absorption or inhalation if the proper safety protocols are practised.  Furthermore, the healthcare workers are not the only ones concerned here. For instance, family members may also be at risk when an employee’s clothing is contaminated.

One last thing worth mentioning is that compounders are not the only ones at risk. Transporting and handling hazardous chemicals can also be very dangerous. It can cause chemical releases leading to explosions and fire if done inappropriately by untrained staff.

How can the risks be limited?

Most of these risks healthcare workers encounter at the workplace might be eliminated if strict protocols and guidelines are followed. The first step in ending occupational injuries starts with a risk evaluation. A well-implemented risk evaluation is essential to assess the potential risks in the workplace. Actually, in the pharmaceutical industry, it is legally mandatory to conduct thorough health and safety risk estimation. It consists of reviewing the workplace to identify the potential dangers and their sources. 

Once the risk evaluation is established, the rest mainly consists of strictly following the safety guidelines. In the pharmaceutical industry, it’s enforced by law to have properly implemented safety measures in the laboratory. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provide manufacturers with extensive guidelines on how to make the lab as safe as possible. 

Manufacturers can create a hazard-prone environment by ensuring all workers use PPE (personal protective equipment) when dealing with dangerous substances. It seems quite self-explanatory, but what is PPE?

Well, it consists of any equipment that will protect the worker. It can be protective apparel, gloves, shoe covers, eye protection, etc. 

 

Conclusion

The pharmaceutical industry is no exception when it comes to the occurrence of occupational injuries. Healthcare workers might face different types of occupational injuries at their workplace, ranging from mild ones, such as standing and sitting for a long time to more severe ones, such as electricity burns.

Although it is an extremely serious topic, ensuring a safe workplace isn’t actually that complicated; it mainly consists of following guidelines given by health organizations. Even though the industry is strictly regulated, injuries should be minimized as much as possible and ensuring employees’ safety should be ongoing. 

Thank you for reading!

 


Su Keles| Posted on January 20, 2023

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