Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

Health & Safety in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Health & safety can be difficult to maintain, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, but all employees are legally obliged to maintain workplace safety standards – and, thankfully, that will never change.

We have assessed the industry and listed how pharmacists should adhere to regulations.

Basic Laboratory Safety

In all workplaces, employees must be mindful when it comes to health & safety. Workers are also legally obliged to take additional precautions when it comes to working in hazardous environments.

In order to ensure basic laboratory safety, all employees must comply with the following basic steps:

  • Quickly clear up all spillages
  • Maintain a tidy work area
  • Frequently wash hands
  • Wear a laboratory coat
  • Never smoke inside the laboratory
  • Label containers correctly
  • Wear eye protection
  • Not wear clothing that exposes the skin (eg, shorts and T-shirts)
  • Not eat in the laboratory
  • Regularly check that glassware is not cracked and that all equipment is safe to use
  • Keep corridors clear
  • Tie up long hair
  • Conduct risk assessments every day
Risk Assessments

The key aim of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 is to identify dangers and prevent people from being harmed at work. This is regulated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which monitors all workplaces to ensure that necessary assessments are carried out.

Pharmacies and laboratories are legally obliged to conduct health & safety risk assessments. They review workplace systems to see whether any dangers are present. There is a simple five-step system to follow when conducting such an assessment:

  1. Try to identify any hazards by walking around the working area, looking up potential dangers on the HSE website and examining accident record sheets.
  2. Secondly, note who may come to harm as a result of any dangers identified. For example, delivery workers may be harmed due to heavy boxes that need to be transported.
  3. The third step involves taking action and deciding how the hazards will be dealt with. Legally, the risk must either be removed or minimised. For example, stopping access to a hazard or removing it from the premises as soon as possible.
  4. The risk and the action taken should be recorded. This demonstrates that the issue has received attention.
  5. Finally, assessments should be reviewed annually to make sure that safety is being maintained in the workplace.
Safety Data Sheets

Pharmaceutical laboratories often store hazardous chemicals that can put everyone at risk. Safety data sheets ensure that chemicals are supplied and used in a safe way. They state the correct procedures for handling chemicals and advise on storage, disposal and first-aid measures that should be taken in the event of an emergency.

If you work with chemicals, you must be familiar with the data sheets so that you understand the hazards associated with the chemicals you use. Do not work with a chemical if you are not provided with a safety data sheet. Suppliers are legally required to offer you one, as stated in the Health & Safety at Work Act.

Handling Chemicals

Transporting chemicals can be very dangerous and, if done improperly, can lead to fires, explosions and chemical releases. The Health & Safety at Work Act states that the handling, transport and use of toxic substances must be as safe as possible. The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 also require that the risk “so far as is reasonably practicable” is eliminated or reduced.

In order to comply with the law, pharmaceutical employees can use the Classification of Chemicals. This is a system that identifies and explains how each chemical can cause harm.  It also states how to correctly label, handle and move chemicals so that disasters such as explosions do not occur.

Reactions at high pressures, high temperatures and oxidation reactions can all cause chemical releases and explosions. To prevent this, keep the oxidation work scale low and understand the flammable limits of gaseous mixes.

Many companies install emergency safety showers. They are designed to remove hazardous liquids from protective clothing, as well as wash skin effectively when employees come into contact with dangerous substances. Eye wash stations should also be present in the workplace, as they dramatically reduce the risk of lasting damage or injury should any substances splash into the eyes.

Maintaining Health & Safety Standards

Ensuring that workplaces are safe is a huge responsibility for employers, particularly in hazardous industries like the pharmaceutical industry. However, by putting simple checks and procedures in place, even the most problematic environments can be monitored safely.

Author: Hughes Safety Showers

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.

Published on 8th June 2016
(Last updated 7th May 2021)