Industry Insights… with Graham Exley
Welcome to the latest blog in our Industry Insights series, where we ask our experts to share their in-depth expertise on topics within the pharmaceutical industry. We recently asked our Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Manager, Graham Exley, to discuss how Arcinova is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting the safety and wellbeing of our staff during this time.
How has COVID-19 changed EHS management, particularly for the pharmaceutical industry?
In terms of working within a CDMO, the biggest impact has been on how we communicate and collaborate, both amongst departments and between the support areas of the business. The staff forum (ACC) and senior management have been meeting regularly and we have quickly established electronic means of communication that have enabled us to carry on our practice of close communication. Though it is vital that laboratories have remained operational, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the quick arrangement of home working.
At Arcinova, around a third of the workforce have not been required on-site and have been supported as they transition to working from home. We began with basic risk assessments, and to reduce the number of people working on-site at any given time, we have also extended the working day to enable more flexibility in working hours. As a company in the pharmaceutical industry, we already had a head start in terms of adapting our EHS management as we already had robust hygiene procedures in place. Nonetheless, it is important that additional physical measures have been introduced, such as hand washing immediately on entry to buildings.
What steps has Arcinova taken to comply with the government guidelines and achieve certification?
Risk assessments are a critical part of complying with the government guidelines and we have successfully completed several, including individual risk assessments for the whole site, essential contractors and essential visitors. As the various areas of our facility are physically very different, this required individual departmental risk assessments to work towards certification. The Government has provided advice for achieving COVID-19 secure status, which Arcinova achieved in May. This includes five steps to safer working, which required looking at the guidance for labs, factories and offices and introducing a hierarchy of measures that meet all the requirements. This is obviously a very fluid situation and we are reviewing our response daily.
Senior management have been very supportive, increasing the frequency of online town hall meetings to rapidly communicate any changes to the safety measures we have put in place. Memos, emails, on-site posters and remote training have also helped us to quickly update staff and ensure we are all complying with the guidelines. Many changes have had to be made to ingrain new or adapted behaviours, such as politely holding the door for someone or stopping to chat with a colleague in a confined walkway. We have all had to relearn our response to these situations in order to maintain distancing rules.
How is Arcinova supporting the mental health of its workforce during this time?
We have built on many of the systems we already had in place to support the mental health of our staff. This includes an employee assistance programme that is supplied by an external provider and encompasses mental health awareness. We have developed virtual human resource clinics, which encourage staff to discuss any issues or concerns that they have, whether that is difficulties working from home or the financial implications of the current situation. The occupational health nurse is also on-site and available to all employees either through online meeting platforms or on the phone. I am always available to signpost people to sources of help, and I have also produced guidance for people who are homeworking to ensure that they know where they can access support.
How else has Arcinova adapted in order to support the wellbeing of its staff during the pandemic?
Arcinova has a popular sports and social club who have recently arranged several interactive social and exercise opportunities in-line with Government guidelines. The activities have ranged from virtual coffee mornings and weekly quizzes to our fiercely-contested step count competition! The latter encouraged people to increase the length of time they spent walking, whether that meant enjoying the North East countryside or walking a lap around the facility. We have also recently provided additional furniture to extend the canteen into outside areas, allowing people to interact socially while maintaining a safe distance. These measures have been extremely popular with staff and helped us maintain a sense of community.
As lockdown eases, how will you be helping more of your workforce transition back into the workplace?
We have already started bringing people back on-site, but we are doing it in a phased fashion. For people who have been working from home full-time, they are now coming back to the site for one day a week, and we are undertaking specific assessments for people who were furloughed so that we can manage their return. We are also installing physical measures to protect our staff as the number of people on-site increases, including protective screens. The new measures are assessed on a department by department basis involving our Representatives of Employee Safety Team and we are confident that we can supply a smooth transition back to on-site working.
As time goes on, the current mitigation measures will change as risk levels reduce and we need to think about these things proactively. For example, business travel has generally been put on hold. As the Government advice changes, we will adapt our response to ensure that personnel who need to travel can do so safely, fulfilling both EHS requirements and operational needs.
If you would like to find out more about our response to COVID-19, please click here