GSK plant goes more than three years without plant injury

Each of GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) 250 employees at its antibiotics manufacturing plant in Ulverston, U.K., this week received a carbon monoxide alarm. The gas-detecting devices were given to celebrate nearly three and a half years of injury-free work. While the ceremony may seem like one of those management-led events that employees often roll their eyes over, pharma plant operators understand the importance of safety. Accidents not only cost time and money--they can cost lives.

"By not being afraid to put up your hand when there is a near miss and being encouraged to speak up when something is spotted which doesn't look or feel right, working safely is embedded in the site's culture," Peter Tayler, environment, health and safety manager for the plant, told employees, the North-West Evening Mail reported. He said the number of potential risks identified at the plant had increased four times in the last several years.

While documented accidents are infrequent, some of those that have happened in drugmaking facilities in recent years have been tragic. Three people were killed and 18 injured by an explosion that leveled a Neptune Technologies & Bioresources ($NEPT) omega-3 manufacturing plant in Canada in 2012. An explosion at a Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' ($TEVA) API plant in Croatia killed one and injured 8 others earlier that year.

Aesica had to pay a £100,000 ($161,000) fine last year for a 2007 accident at a U.K. plant in which a worker was severely burned after being doused with 7 liters of bromine as he worked on a storage tank. And California-based Amgen ($AMGN) and its hazardous waste-disposal contractor were cited by state OSHA officials last year after a worker for the disposal firm was burned in a flash fire at an Amgen facility. Nine months later, an explosion at the same California facility sent two workers to the hospital.

Sometimes even the FDA gets involved. A Cispharma plant in New Jersey was cited in a warning letter last year for not adequately investigating an accident in 2012 in which an employee's hand was injured during compression of acetaminophen tablets. It said the company didn't do a good job of documenting what specifically happened and was concerned the facility had not done enough to ensure that products were not tainted with "blood or tissue."

As for the GSK plant, the North-West Evening Mail says it is now shooting for 3 million hours and 5 years without an employee injury at the facility.

- here's the North-West Evening Mail story