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Workplace safety, employee well-being, and patient safety are critical factors for success in the life sciences industry. This includes companies across medical devices, pharma and biotech, biomedical technology companies, healthcare firms, etc. Also, all these sectors are highly regulated and health & safety leaders need to ensure that all OSHA and other safety compliance requirements are being followed.

In addition to general workplace safety guidelines, it is also important for life sciences companies to plan safety precautions against the use of hazardous chemicals, biological hazards, etc.

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Broadly, some of the risks to employee well-being in the life sciences industry come from the following:

  • Usage of flammable and combustible materials
  • Presence of hazardous chemicals in the lab
  • Biological hazards, risks of unknown biomaterials
  • Musculoskeletal strains due to poor ergonomics, repetitive movements, and/or awkward working positions
  • Other lab safety hazards (sharp glass, etc.)

While these risks are unavoidable due to the nature of the work being carried out in the life sciences industry, the companies can minimize incidents and promote the safety of the employees by:

  • Implementing an efficient safety management system
  • Identifying potential hazards, prioritizing them, and finding controls and mitigative action to minimize or eliminate the consequences
  • Continuous monitoring processes to anticipate possible incidents and take preventive action
  • Quickly and appropriately responding to any incident and ensuring there is no recurrence
  • Equipping the employees with the required training, tools, and protective gear to protect them from harm

Purely from a business perspective, emphasis on employee health is crucial to avoid absenteeism due to injuries and the resultant loss of productivity. Incidents can also affect the bottom line, due to an increase in worker compensation, litigation, and penalties. Worse, it can corrode the brand’s reputation, causing a loss of revenue.

There is no doubt that health and safety can drive competitive advantage in the life sciences industry, especially when is it proactive and there is an enterprise-wide safety culture.

12 Rules to Improve Workplace Safety in the Life Sciences Industry

Over the last several years, regulations and standards have guided businesses in ensuring environment, health, and safety management in their organizations. However, often in the rush to meet deadlines and business goals, safety has become more reactive and a compliance issue. Businesses respond when there is an event but do not proactively prioritize safety.

For a proactive approach to workplace safety, we recommend a holistic approach. The 12 steps that businesses can implement to ensure the workplace is truly safe for the employees and the environment include:

1. Proactive and Periodic Risk Assessment Processes Must Become Routine: A workplace has many potential hazards, some of which need a process and cultural change. Safety leaders must identify the hazards, evaluate their severity, and prioritize the risks, put in place controls and measures to eliminate or reduce their impact. Documenting the risks and the controls, providing appropriate training, and putting up notices are some of the ways in which the risks can be contained.

2. Lab Safety Measures – Design Robust Systems and Processes: The laboratory can be a highly unsafe place in the life sciences industry due to the use of chemicals and biological hazards. Therefore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends making the labs safe by:

  • Frequently clean it to clear chemical hazards and particles
  • Periodically wash hands to prevent the spread of bacteria, viruses, or hazardous chemicals
  • Avoid consuming food or water in the lab
  • Do not smoke inside the laboratory
  • Ensure availability of and use of Personal Protective Equipment
  • Appropriately label containers
  • Periodically check the proper functioning of equipment
  • Wear a head cap to prevent contamination through hair
  • Remove clutter and loose wires to avoid trips, falls, and electric accidents
  • Clean spills immediately
  • Evaluate risks every day

3. Proper, Meaningful Training for Employees: Often, employees are skeptical about the effectiveness of safety measures and may continue to indulge in unsafe actions. Proper training and awareness are important to ensure a change in the mindset.

This requires:

  • Demonstrating commitment to safety by enforcing the safety rules
  • Taking immediate action in case of an observation or a near miss
  • Responding to incidents with transparency
  • Use feedback to control potentially hazardous situations
  • Seek inputs for improving workplace safety
  • Reinforce positive behaviors through rewards and appreciation

4. Health & Safety Standards in Handling Chemicals: Chemicals can cause short- and long-term health and environmental hazards and therefore need to be handled carefully. Otherwise, it can lead to releases, explosions, and fire. One of the mitigative measures can be using the classification of chemicals to identify hazardous chemicals. Labeling, storing, and transporting these chemicals should be done in compliance with regulations. Emergency showers can be installed to enable the staff coming in contact with them to wash it away quickly. Wearing PPE should also be mandatory when handling chemicals. Having handy eyewash stations and fire extinguishers and providing emergency exit routes in case of an explosion or fire is also important. Training also plays a critical role in the proper handling of hazardous chemicals.

5. Maintain Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS): MSDS is a master document with information on the potential hazards of the chemicals and how to handle them safely. It forms the foundation for the health and safety program in a laboratory detailing the correct usage, storage, handling, and emergency procedures for hazardous materials. Prepared by the supplier or the manufacturer, it is much more than a label, acting as a guide to prevent events or handle them effectively in case of one.

6. Safe Disposal of Lab Waste: This is an oft-neglected area. Chemicals should not be poured down the sink but deposited in designated disposal bins or containers. Unused reagents should not be poured back into the bottle but instead, disposed of safely. For biological cultures, it is important to know whether soap and water are enough to clean the dish or if it needs a stronger agent. Sharp objects such as needles, glass containers, and razors also need to be disposed of carefully.

7. Safe Use of Equipment: The laboratory equipment and the manufacturing equipment are also potential causes of accidents if not handled and maintained properly. Periodic, preventive maintenance, use only by trained employees, proper plugging and unplugging procedures, etc. need to be observed diligently to avoid accidents.

8. Handling Inflammable Material: Inflammable material should be identified and stored in fireproof cabinets. They should always be placed back in the cabinet after use and not left lying around. Bunsen burners and other hot surfaces should be handled with care. Following instructions when producing substances with explosive properties are important. The fire extinguisher should be kept handy and the staff trained to use it.

9. Conduct Experiments only in the Lab: Carrying work at home is not uncommon, but when it comes to lab equipment, this should be discouraged. Even the clothes one uses when in the lab should be washed thoroughly before reuse.

10. Incident Management: Prepare a plan of action for the identified risks and train designated staff to respond appropriately in case of an incident. The incident should also be recorded and the data should be shared to use the learnings for preventing future recurrence and reporting.

11. Permit-to-Work: Having a strong permit-to-work process is essential to ensure that only authorized staff is allowed to work in high-risk areas or handle high-risk chemicals and biologics.

12. Top Management Commitment: The senior management must lead the safety efforts from the front. This will convince employees of the importance of safe behavior and comply with guidelines and rules more diligently, improving the safety of the workplace.

Automate Safety Management with ComplianceQuest EHS Solution

At ComplianceQuest, we’ve helped life sciences companies in 1200+ locations around the world automate their quality, health, safety, and environment management system with our modern, next-generation QHSE solution. Our QHSE solution is scalable, flexible, customizable, and comes with in-built risk management capabilities. We also make sure health and safety professionals have data at their fingertips, can collaborate with ease, and track open action items to closure. It also has a world-class management review solution, to ensure seamless communication among executive leaders, the health and safety team, and the rest of the organization.

With CQ EHS, you can automate Incident, Document, Audit and Risk Management, Near-Misses and Safety Observations Analytics, Supplier Safety Management, Management Reviews, and Permit to Work.

If you’d like to get a personalized demo of how we can help you streamline your health and safety processes, request a demo here: https://www.compliancequest.com/online-demo/

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