The pharmaceutical industry poses major challenges to conventional pest management practices. Industry regulators like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA – local or foreign) regularly audit pharmaceutical units. In addition, depending on the product and the stage of its manufacture, the facilities that a pest management professional (PMP) deals with may have no tolerance even for a single pest. To add to the complexity of pest management, in the pharmaceutical industry’s clean rooms and other sterile processing environments, even the use of pesticides is not possible, writes Giridhar Pai, Director at Giridhar Pai Associates LLP and PECOPP Pest Control Services Pvt Ltd.
How do you manage pests at a pharmaceutical industry unit? Making safe and high-quality products by effective pest management is done through design, pest-risk management, pest monitoring and pest treatments.
Pest prevention by design
Specialised architects who design pharmaceutical manufacturing units ensure that the structure prevents pest entry or harbourage. Numerous features help keep pests out, even though some stray ones find their way in breaching barriers.
Double doors, double windows, and air curtains help prevent pest entry and contain a pest from the high-risk zones, even when it makes its way through one of two barriers. The use of coved wall-floor junctions allows for easier cleaning and denying pests movement and harbourage.
Indoor and outdoor lighting also plays a role in attracting night-flying insects. For example, a factory with light shining on it from the boundary walls will be less attractive to light-attracted insects than another with lights on its roof that are visible from a long distance.
Maintaining a 45 inch vegetation-free barrier all around a building helps contain pests that would find gravel on such strips inhospitable.
Pest risk mapping and assessment
Though it is possible to maintain clean zones with no pests, the costs are substantial. Hence, a graded approach that classifies areas into low, medium, or high risks or risks on a numerical rating scale, helps to assign resources commensurate with the risk.
A pest risk assessment by a professional PMC helps identify the areas at risk, the risk ratings across a unit, and the risk mitigation measures. In addition, risks do not remain static, changing with seasons, structural changes, and process variations. Therefore, a PMC can further help a pharmaceutical company periodically update the latter’s pest risk assessment at least every six months.
A combination of pest monitoring devices and periodic visual inspections helps identify the type and extent of pests at a facility. Glue boards, insect light traps (ILTs), pheromone traps and remotely monitored traps help assess pest populations.
The presence of flying insects and birds is easy to detect and must lead to finding the source. Site employees must report any pest through a Smartphone app with details, including images, to generate a facility Pest Sighting Log. Such records help plan pest management program improvements and deal with customer complaints and auditor queries.
Good PMCs rely on various methods to deal with pests and resort to chemical pesticides only when the other options are ineffective. Pest trapping and their physical removal by vacuuming or live trapping are some methods that do not involve pesticides.
A pharmaceutical facility’s pest management program may allow the use of pesticides in low-risk areas. With the availability of highly effective chemical pesticides with long residual effects, the volume of chemical pesticide emulsions a PMP uses is minimal, ensuring the required pest impact.
The Indian pest management industry has evolved to meet the highest quality and product safety standards that the Indian pharmaceutical industry demands. Apart from the advent of newer pesticides, India now has access to the latest products that help non-toxic pest management with minimal environmental impact. For example, India now has UV LED Insect ILTs that consume a fifth of the electric power of conventional fluorescent tube traps.
New rodent proofing products help seal rodent entry points to block pests and generate energy savings by providing a ‘climate seal’ that keeps in cool air from air conditioning. Remote rodent monitoring stations offer the ease of smartphone and email alerts if a facility has rodent activity, without the need for a technician entering the facility, which is helpful to prevent contamination.
Selecting a PMC
With changing risk norms, the selection of pest management vendors must also ensure that the selected one is the best suited to meet stringent industry norms. Unfortunately, few Indian PMCs have public liability and collateral general liability policies that protect them and their customers in claims cases.
The availability of digital solutions has helped PMCs upgrade their processes and maintain a digital record trail of their work. As the price of pest management contracts is minuscule compared to a facility’s operating cost, pharmaceutical companies must look beyond price as the only vendor selection criteria.
Vendor’s statutory compliance is also emerging as a leading customer concern, and PMC selection must pay attention to the status of such compliance. Though the cost of pest management, like other operating costs, is to be optimised, it must be seen in the light of the cost of failure and non-compliance by a pharmaceutical company. PMC vendors from the unorganised segment may offer low prices but without recourse in case of their statutory non-compliance or liquidation.