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Chemical risks in pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceutical manufacturing is a complex process that involves the use of a wide range of chemicals, including solvents, reagents, and active ingredients. While these chemicals are essential for producing life-saving medications, they can also pose significant risks to workers if proper safety measures are not in place.

PREVOR has been a partner with several pharmaceutical companies for over 20 years now. We have seen firsthand the importance of identifying and mitigating chemical risks in these environments. In this article, we will discuss the various types of chemical risks that can be present in pharmaceutical industries and offer practical strategies for protecting employees from exposure.

Identifying Chemical Risks in Pharmaceutical Industries

Identifying chemical risks in a pharmaceutical plant is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it can significantly improve the safety and well-being of employees working in the plant by reducing the likelihood of accidents or exposure to hazardous chemicals. This in turn can lead to an increase in productivity among employees. Secondly, minimizing chemical risks can reduce the potential for environmental contamination, which is crucial for preserving the natural environment and avoiding any negative impact on public health. Finally, it can help ensure that the pharmaceutical products produced are of high quality and meet regulatory requirements, which is essential for maintaining consumer trust and preventing costly recalls or legal issues.

Overall, minimizing chemical risks is essential for creating a safe and sustainable pharmaceutical manufacturing environment.

1 – Manufacturing areas

These areas are where the actual production of pharmaceutical products occurs. Chemical risks in these areas can come from exposure to raw materials, solvents, and reagents. For example, corrosive substances such as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid, and irritant substances such as acetone, ethanol, and sodium hydroxide are commonly used in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products. These products can pose significant health hazards if not properly handled. For example, if a container of a substance such as hydrochloric acid is mishandled or punctured, it can spill and potentially cause harm to employees or damage to equipment. In the event of a chemical spill, it is crucial to have an emergency response plan in place that includes procedures for containing the spill, providing first aid to any affected employees, and ensuring that the spilled material is properly disposed of.

2 – Laboratories

Pharmaceutical companies often have extensive laboratory facilities for research and development, testing, and quality control. These areas can be particularly hazardous due to the large number of chemicals present. Chemicals used in laboratories can include everything from acids and bases to highly reactive compounds that can pose serious health and safety risks if not handled correctly. Here we will often have to deal with smaller splashes in the event of an accident compared to the manufacturing area. People working in the laboratory can be wearing their PPE equipment and by mishandling an equipment they can received chemical splashes that goes underneath their safety glasses or in between their clothes. In these cases, we will need to have a quick response to ensure the health of the employee and as well the safety of the environment of the workspace.

3 – Storage areas

Chemicals used in pharmaceutical production must be stored safely to prevent accidents, fires, and explosions. Improper storage of chemicals can also lead to chemical spills and leaks, which can pose significant health and safety risks to employees. All types of products will be found. Acids, bases, reducing agents, oxidizers, chelating agents can be stored in designated areas with proper ventilation and safety measures. It is also important to separate and create barriers between products that can be dangerous if they are in contact with each other. Just like acids that should be stored somewhere far from basic products so that we make sure they never come in contact with each other to create an exothermic reaction.

4 – Waste management

Pharmaceuticals plants generate large quantities of waste, including hazardous waste that must be properly managed. The wastewater treatment process that is often found can be broken down into several main stages: inflow of effluent, pre-treatment (screening, grit removal, degreasing and oil removal), treatment (physical-chemical and/or biological, followed by clarification), disinfection, pH adjustment and sludge treatment. At the various stages of the treatment process, the water and sludge are monitored and analyzed to ensure compliance with local environmental standards. All throughout the process of waste management we will find acids such as chlorohydric acid or bases such as caustic soda.

5 – Maintenance

The industrial risks of damage or dysfunction of the equipment lead pharmaceutical companies to perform frequent maintenance operations of the installations. Accidents may be observed during the operations of draining, cleaning, sanitation, and purging. The main causes of accidents are the chemical splashes which can occur for instance when a pipe or a tank burst under pressure or during disassembling operations of pipes or valves.

Identifying chemical risks is the first step in protecting employees from chemical exposure. Pharmaceutical companies should conduct thorough risk assessments to identify potential hazards and implement appropriate safety measures to prevent accidents and protect employees. This may include developing safety protocols, providing safety training, and ensuring that employees have access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize their risk of exposure.

Protecting Employees from Chemical Risks in Pharmaceutical Industries

Once chemical risks have been identified, it is important to take steps to protect employees from exposure. Here are some strategies that pharmaceutical companies can use to protect their employees:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): PPE, such as gloves, goggles, and respirators, can help protect workers from exposure to chemicals. It is essential that employees are trained on how to properly use and maintain PPE.
  • Engineering controls: These include measures such as ventilation systems, air filtration, and isolation of hazardous areas. Engineering controls can help minimize employee exposure to chemical hazards.
  • Administrative controls: Administrative controls refer to policies and procedures that help reduce chemical risks, such as limiting employee exposure time, providing training on chemical hazards, and establishing emergency response procedures.

Water vs. DIPHOTERINE® Solution for Chemical Decontamination

In conclusion, chemical hazards are a major concern in pharmaceutical plants, and it is important that companies take proactive steps to protect their employees. This includes identifying hazards, implementing appropriate safety measures, and providing comprehensive safety training. In the event of a chemical spill or exposure, prompt and effective decontamination is essential to minimize the risk of injury. Water is a passive solution that will dilute the chemical product and provide a mechanical rinsing on the surface. The DIPHOTERINE® solution is an active solution that rinses the chemical product from the surface, stops the aggressiveness of the chemical and will be able to remove the chemical product that has already penetrated the tissues of the skin or the eye.

By prioritizing safety and implementing best practices, pharmaceutical companies can create a safer work environment for their employees and minimize the risk of chemical exposure.

To learn more about the different benefits of DIPHOTERINE®, please visit our page!


INRS, Laboratoires de chimie (2018)

INRS, Fiches toxicologiques (FT30, FT238, FT154, FT157, FT43, FT5, FT32, FT16, FT51, FT258, FT123, FT13, …)

Officiel Prévention : La prévention des risques professionnels dans les industries phamaceutiques (2013)