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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Getting a Lift

Over the past 10 years, the pharmaceutical sector has continued to be a powerful and dynamic player that continues to grow when other industries have taken sharp downturns. In the sector much effort has been put into controlling the risks from chemical and biological hazards presented in the workplace. As a result, problems regarding exposure to hazardous substances are relatively rare. On the other hand, hazards due to bad ergonomics in the workplace have been less well recognised and as a result musculoskeletal injury is one of the largest sources of lost time in the industry. Heavy manual handling, where the work involves a lot of lifting and carrying, still occurs in many workplaces within pharma manufacturing. This applies to packaging, distribution and warehousing areas and various types of manufacturing processes. In order to reduce or prevent pain and injuries of the musculoskeletal system among staff, the employer can make certain changes in the work environment to improve the situation.

Statistics in the Pharmaceutical Industry

‘Ergonomics’ as a term refers to the adaptation of labour and the environment to human needs and conditions.

Poor ergonomics can cause problems and illness. There can be various types of injuries due to incorrect movements and lifting. Data submitted to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by reports from the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation (RIDDOR) between 2001 and 2004 show that manual handling incidents are the most frequently reported. During manual handling, injuries to the back are most common, followed by the upper limbs, along with cramp and tendon inflammation problems.

Back pain is one of the predominant occupational health problems in most industrialised countries, accounting for 20 to 30 per cent of all workers’ compensation claims and up to 50 per cent of all direct compensation costs. Today there are people on sick leave or early retirement for reasons that could have been addressed or prevented if detected in time.Working conditions in pharmaceutical manufacturing areas are, however, better than those in most other manufacturing industries, and work-related injuries are thankfully rare.

Manual Lifting and Ergonomics

In recognition of the benefits of incorporating equipment to help with strenuous work in recent years, companies have begun to use ergonomic equipment in the workplace. It can involve various factors, from how the workplace should look technically in order to not wear on the body, to how the body is used in practical terms. Examples include body posture when pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying; or work posture such as working height, climate, light and sound.

Ergonomics is also about methods and tools used in practice in the workplace and the indoor environment to better correspond to human characteristics, functions and capabilities. It is therefore a holistic approach that deals with the interaction between people, technology and organisation on the basis of workers’ individual characteristics. This not only optimises the health and welfare in the work environment, but also performance in the design of products and systems.

Musculoskeletal disorders can be caused or aggravated by work tasks. Factors such as repetitive and monotonous work movements, heavy lifting without the use of technical aids, poor posture, improper techniques, static muscle work or using hand tools that are not ergonomically designed can cause great strain on the musculoskeletal system. However, ergonomic risks can be identified with structured assessments and avoided by good facility and task design and the use of ergonomically designed equipment. This may include investing in lifting equipment, offering training in lifting techniques, or encouraging more breaks and variation in terms of work tasks.

The Importance of Ergonomics and Lifting Aids

There are various factors to consider when you talk about strain and its effects. The actual weight, size and shape of the goods being lifted are important considerations. Other influential factors include whether the space is large enough to enable safe lifting; if you lift in an awkward position and the body must rotate during the lift; and the frequency of the lifts. The strength of the person who does the lifting and the design of the grip of the handles are also some factors to consider.

Monotonous and repetitive work is common, for instance, in some weighing, filling and emptying of containers and packaging tasks in the manufacturing process in pharmaceutical industry. Constantly repeating the same movements causes a continuous strain. The extra weight is not always a factor; it can often be enough with just the weight of the arms for the muscles and joints to be burdened in an unhealthy way.The result can be a slow-onset injury, which may have a long healing process.The relative pressure on the musculoskeletal system is also affected by the physical capacity of the human body. Each lifting situation is therefore individual and should be evaluated separately.When you lift and carry heavy or bulky objects, shoulders, lower back and arms are all under strain, along with the heart and lungs.

How much the back is burdened depends on how heavy the load is and the distance between the body and the load. The load should be close to the body, rotation when lifting should be avoided, and during heavy manual lifting, technical lifting aids should be used. Therefore avoiding manual handling of very low, high or heavy objects is recommended.

Cleanroom Environment

Today it is an essential requirement to work in environments that are sufficiently decontaminated or have a controlled level of contamination during some production processes within specific research laboratories. Therefore, guaranteeing sterility is a necessity in this type of clean environment. The chemical and pharmaceutical industries operate in zones where the level of contamination from environmental pollutants is extremely low and kept under control. These are rooms specifically designed to ensure the absolute lowest possible presence of impurities in the air.Many regulations regarding the classification of these environments have developed over the past 20 years, but currently the main reference is provided by European standard ISO 14644-1, which is also widely used in the rest of the world. All lifting equipment should therefore be designed and developed in accordance with ISO standards.

It is recommended that lifting equipment is also available in accordance with the ATEX regulations (Group II, category 2-3), which guarantee a very high level of protection in areas which develop an explosive environment (ignition hazard); either continuously/repeatedly or temporarily. A complete unit should be earthed and manufactured in stainless steel with several special solutions in order to comply with the ATEX regulations. It should be possible to use the equipment in Zones 1 and 2 (areas subject to explosion hazards resulting from flammable gases, mists and vapours) and Zones 21 and 22 (areas subject to explosion hazards resulting from flammable dusts).Typical examples of areas at risk of explosion are the zones where granulation takes place, as well as areas used for mixing; these are often classified as ATEX zones.

Ergonomic Lifting Solutions

Every pharmaceutical manufacturing plant features an area in which raw material is weighed and transferred to clean containers.Weighing drums containing tablets, powders and fluids in these areas are usually handled manually with operators using scoops and drum-tipping devices. Lifting drums and emptying of the contents is therefore a major activity in pharmaceutical manufacturing,which often requires an overall awkward posture and heavy lifting for the operator. The use of a lifting aid is suitable for this type of lifting, such as a stainless steel (due to cleanroom environment) lifting trolley that keeps the drum safely in place while being turned. It consists of a bracket that holds the drum in place when it is manually emptied of its contents. It has a turning configuration, rotating 180 degrees vertically to empty drums into hoppers and 130 degrees in the opposite direction to dispense into weighing scales. It can be equipped with V-shaped legs to reach around and pick-up drums from pallet corners. This lifting aid would in this case reduce manual lifting and improve safety for the operator.

Filling pharmaceutical coating machinery is another awkward task that can put strain on the operator. These aids are available in different models designed for environments where demands for hygiene, corrosion resistance, ease of cleaning and resistance to acids or bases are required – in other words, perfect for the pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Boxes of pharmaceutical produce are handled in the end-of-line packaging section of many pharmaceutical companies. The packaging area also often requires manual lifting of boxes and other types of goods. The use of lifting aids is recommended for this type of lifting. High-speed, flexible and ergonomic vacuum lifts are suitable for this type of goods handling and environment, large warehouses or small packaging areas. Vacuum lifters are also commonly used to lift rubber blocks, since the vacuum lifter makes it possible to maintain a high lifting frequency without straining the operator. The quick-release control immediately loosens the grip on the load when pressed, making the lifting process effective and safe for the operator.

Good ergonomics can have a significant impact on a company’s financial and productive side. An injury at work is considered a cost to the employee, company and the society. A high rate of absenteeism, the measures needed for rehabilitation and the disturbance in production result in high costs for businesses and society, while pain and lifelong disability can affect some employees. Since the risk of musculoskeletal injuries are reduced with better ergonomic conditions in the workplace, financial savings for all parties can be achieved.


Ergonomic lifting aids offer valuable ways to help ensure that employees are as proactive as possible and out of harm’s way while performing manual lifting. By following ergonomics principles in the workplace, one can ensure that tasks are completed in the safest possible way. As ergonomic lifting equipment comes into play more prominently in the workplace,we should develop better, more effective working conditions.

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Adiam Tewelde has a Master’s degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Work Psychology, with a major in International Marketing and Human Resources. She currently works at TAWI AB with Marketing and Sales and as a service coordinator regarding service and installation. Her current role focuses on customers in different industries, including the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, and she works with engineers dedicated to find customised solutions to individual lifting problems. Email:
Adiam Tewelde
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