When we think of Employees in the healthcare industry, our mind often goes to doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers. But what about those that work behind the scenes, manufacturing the medicines that keep us healthy and disease-free! India’s pharmaceutical industry is one of the largest in the world – supplying 50% of the global vaccine demand and 40% of the generic medicines demand in the US. It has projected growth to US$ 65 billion by next year*.
Today (April 28), on the occasion of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we reflect upon the safety and health of those in the pharmaceutical industry who work tirelessly, and often thanklessly, for the country’s health and world.
A few months ago, the International Labour Conference officially included access to a ‘safe and healthy working environment’ as a fundamental principle and right at work. Delivering this fundamental right translates into two aspects:
- The laws of the land to protect their workforce
- The additional health and safety-focused initiatives undertaken by companies to protect their workforce
We are seeing steps taken at the national and international levels – but the proof of the pudding lies in the implementation. In India, the ‘Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code (OSH)’ works for the safety of industrial and manufacturing workers. This code will subsume several existing labour laws, covering industrial relations, wages, social security, and worker health, safety, and welfare.
While there is an evident need to follow such safety standards more strictly, there are a few challenges that limit their enforcement – the most common of these being non-compliance. For example, it is crucial to report injury or illness data to the concerned authorities, as the lack of data hinders the creation of long-term strategies for care.
In the case of the pharmaceutical industry, worker safety is of particular concern, given the ramifications of safety hazards not only on the workers but also on the patients who rely on these pharmaceutical products. The list is endless, from handling flammable substances, toxic chemicals, hazardous chemicals, or infectious pathogens, to the risk of poisoning and radiation exposure. As products and processes evolve, new safety hazards and health risks may get introduced.
Prioritising the safety and well-being of these workers demand ongoing improvement and strategies focused toward:
- Enforcing robust processes at the manufacturing stage to minimise risks to personnel
- Engaging in constant risk assessments and analysing potential impacts on employees. In addition, it is imperative to implement preventive measures that improve response times or eliminate accidents/incidents entirely
- Ensuring processes are followed for proper identification, toxicological data generation, first-aid measures, availability of antidotes in case of exposures and handling and storage instructions for reactants and products
- Following a detailed production workflow with extensive documentation to ensure employees are trained in safety policies, procedures and risk management processes
- Encouraging total employee involvement in the safety and risk-mitigation processes of the organisation. By making employees aware of the risks involved and providing the proper training and capacity-building, we can ensure that everyone, from management to workers, is better equipped to handle potential safety and health risks.
Finally, the constant emphasis on teamwork and transparency and empowering people to raise concerns within organisations go a long way in protecting both workers and the patients they serve. Hence, employers must proactively identify potential risks and implement safety measures to prevent accidents, injuries and illness. This approach requires a culture of safety, starting with top management, that permeates throughout the organisation. Ultimately, investing in employee safety not only protects workers from harm but also benefits the organisation by reducing costs, improving productivity, and enhancing overall well-being.
Why is this important to you as the consumer? It is in your best interest that life-saving medicines and vaccines are produced in the safest and most regulated environments. The next time you buy a strip of prescription medicine at a pharmacy, you should feel assured that there are several people, a stringent safety process, an entire supply chain, and reams of research that have gone into making that product.