Ensuring Safe and Sustainable Practices: The Critical Role of EHS Compliance in Life Sciences
The life sciences industry encompasses a range of healthcare-related solution providers including biotech & pharmaceuticals; medical devices/equipment/products; scientific equipment; and life science research and lab services. These companies help improve treatment outcomes by conducting and developing drugs and equipment for various diseases.
While product quality is an important aspect of this industry as it affects patient safety, the workers in the industry are exposed to many hazards that can affect their well-being. Therefore, EHS compliance is critical for keeping employees safe, improving operational efficiency, and enhancing a company’s brand value.
The life sciences industry has some hazards that are common across all industries. These include exposure to electrical, mechanical, or chemical-related work. But in addition to that, given the nature of the industry, there are some additional risks to health and safety that the safety leaders in the life industries must prepare for.
These broadly fall under the following categories:
- Chemical hazards such as air contaminants
- Biological hazards such as biological toxins and pathogens
- Physical hazards such as non-ionizing radiation
- Safety hazards such as autoclaves and sterilizers
Hazard Control and Risk Mitigation
From irritation and allergic reactions to cancer, infections, and exposure to life-threatening diseases, the hazards in the life sciences industry can be severe, impairing, or even causing death to workers - when proper risk mitigation efforts are not implemented.
OSHA recommends a process-based approach to mitigating the risks associated with the life sciences industry. It begins with:
- Creating a safety management system
- Identification of all the relevant hazards
- Assessing the risk and ranking it based on the severity of the impact and the frequency of occurrence/exposure
- Putting in control measures
- Training the employees/workers on the value of safe behavior
- Empowering them to report safety observations and near-misses
- Creating an incident investigation process with clear roles and responsibilities
The training must cover a variety of aspects including safe lab operations, quality assurance, following hygienic practices and other current good manufacturing practices (cGMP), handling laboratory equipment properly, and using the PPE as required.
The Need for EHS in the Life Sciences Industry
The life sciences industry must ensure workplace safety because it is highly regulated and non-compliance can lead to penalties and fines. Further, there are direct costs related to disruption to day-to-day operations. There may also be litigation and compensation, which adds to the costs.
Depending on the severity of the injury or illness caused at the workplace, the employee concerned may need to take leave for a short or long term, affecting productivity. This is also a cost to the company. For long-term absenteeism or in case of death, the worker needs to be replaced temporarily or permanently, costing the company in finding a replacement and train them. Research shows that new workers, even if they have past experience, tend to be the most vulnerable in new environments. This is like Damocle’s sword, especially in high-risk environments.
And there is the cost to the affected employee who may not be able to return to work or their families in case of death.
While productivity is affected, the morale of other employees will also be low. Unless they see their employer’s commitment to workplace safety, their quality of work will also suffer. This will have an impact on customer satisfaction and brand reputation as well.
Ensuring Workplace Safety in Life Sciences Industry
The safety management system can be effective only when every employee at every level believes in it and is committed to it. Therefore, from the top management to the last man in the office, safety has to be imbibed as a culture with total engagement and adherence to safety SOPs.
Define and Communicate Policies: The first step is to define the safety goals and the steps to achieve these goals. Communicating it with the employees and putting them up where they can see it will reinforce the message.
Conduct Periodic Inspections: Safety inspections are very important in ensuring the policies translate into action. It will help uncover any potential hazards and correct them before they become an event. This will also communicate the organization’s commitment to safety and encourage employees to align their actions to the policies.
Ensure Laboratory Safety: In the life sciences industry, the additional risks need special attention due to the serious implications to health. Be it chemicals, pathogens, or equipment like sterilizers, only trained and designated persons must be allowed to handle them. Classification of chemicals and creating material safety data sheets on how to store, handle, and dispose of them can help provide the required clarity. Using the Classification of Chemicals can be an effective way of handling hazardous chemicals and mitigating the associated risks.
Implement Controls: Some of the standard controls to mitigate risks include good housekeeping to clean up any spills and keeping the work area tidy to reduce the risk of trips, slips, falls, fires, etc. Using PPE when handling chemicals/pathogens, washing hands periodically and especially after handling chemicals, labeling containers correctly, ensuring the storing material do not have leaks, and so on are some of the important mitigation measures.
Take a Holistic Approach to Safety Management: Life Sciences organizations must integrate reactive, proactive, and predictive approaches to safety management. This involves being able to respond to incidents quickly and effectively to minimize damage and identify potential dangers to implement preventive measures. Capturing safety data and predicting future events will enable the organization to progress toward becoming a zero-incident organization.
ComplianceQuest EHS to Automate Safety Management
ComplianceQuest Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) Software is a cloud-based, cost-effective solution that enables the end-to-end automation of workplace safety processes in life sciences organizations. It captures and presents data as intuitive and interactive dashboards and reports to allow safety managers to make informed decisions to improve workplace safety. It helps employees report safety observations and incidents for timely action. It has access to all the risks in the company, enabling capturing trends and continually improving safety. The solution also helps in identifying skill gaps and makes it easy to deliver customized training to personnel as needed.
Further, the system allows the creation of checklists and master safety data sheets for better management of hazardous chemicals. Inspection and audits can be automated to improve workplace safety and provide management with the required information to improve safety-related strategic decisions. Documentation can be automated, simplifying the entire workflow and providing easy access as required.
To know more about ComplianceQuest’s EHS Solution and how it can play a role in helping your life sciences company in its journey towards zero incidents, request a demo here: https://www.compliancequest.com/lp/life-sciences-and-safety/