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Pandemic or no pandemic, the production of life-saving medicines by the pharma industry is a process that cannot afford to go on hiatus. Troikaa Pharmaceuticals Ltd was quick to realise the risks of Covid infection and transmission at the workplace, and adapted to the new normal by researching global best practices to design and implement workplace SOPs that ensure the safety of every employee.

In this interview, KM Ramachandran, Sr Vice-President, HR-Troikaa Pharmaceuticals Ltd gives us an inside look into what went into overhauling the workplace environment in Covid times, and the reasoning behind it all:

Q. What was the need to get into redefining the cleaning protocols at your premises?
A: While thorough cleaning and disinfection is a standard process in pharma companies — especially in critical areas of manufacturing — the COVID situation demanded even more stringent care and vigilance. Hence, in order to ensure our premises remain safe and infection-free, we redefined the protocols to have more frequent disinfection and deep – cleaning with prescribed materials which are effective in killing the virus.

Q. What factors did you take into account before designing the new SOPs?
A: Being an essential lifesaving commodity manufacturer and a socially responsible organization, it was our duty to ensure continuity of operations while ensuring safety and hygiene, and consequently, the well-being of our workforce. We designed sustainable SOPs and protocols with a long-term perspective. Our focus was on the following three key aspects:

  1. Making our workplace safe through  
  •  Disinfection and deep cleaning which was effective against the virus and
  •  Through proactive retraining of employees who were sick, or living in affected areas.
  1. Individuals’ safety and hygiene through provision of PPEs, sanitizers and comprehensive guidelines for precautions to be followed 24×7
  2. Individual well-being through extensive palliative care advisories, provision of immunity booster supplements and counselling for emotional well-being.

Q. Based on different areas, how many SOPs were designed?
A: Based on various advisories issued by MHA, MoHFW, IPA, FICCI, CII and local government authorities, we defined one Master SOP to encompass all relevant aspects. Further, where we felt the need for more detailed and specific guidelines e.g. incoming material management, document & sample management, garment management, etc. we designed individual sub-SOPs. Based on these, we have a checklist of nearly 90 protocol points which
are monitored as per defined frequencies.

Q. What information from across the world did you draw on to design them, and from where?
A: Even before the janta curfew and COVID crisis were declared in India, we had already started reviewing international news, WHO and FDA advisories and how the affected nations were mitigating the crisis. WHO and FDA provided a strong basis for us to conceptualise and design our basic protocols on disinfection, PPEs and managing sick employees. Eventually, MHA and MoHFW also published guidelines based on the advisories of these two bodies, followed by IPA, FICCI and the industrial bodies.

Q. How did you modify this information for Indian conditions?
A: Apart from the challenges of ensuring physical distancing in our massive population, I don’t think there has been much difference in the way the COVID crisis is being handled globally. The basic advisories and protocols remain the same in a global pandemic.

Q. How did you get your team to adopt the new SOPs? What was the initial response and how are they coping now?
A: The team was completely in sync with the enormity of the crisis and determined to take it up as a challenge. We formed central and unit-wise crisis management teams and appointed SPOCs and divided the responsibility among them. Crisis management was not restricted to just the HR and Administration team; we formed a ‘Task force’ of HODs and seniors at each unit to overlook the implementation of these SOPs. Initially, we did have challenges in terms of team members’ availability on premises due to containment zoning, which was dealt with once commute passes were issued for pharma employees. Today, the SOPs and protocols have become an effortless new normal mode of operations for the teams.

Q. How did you go about shortlisting the machines, tools and chemicals that were required to meet the SOPs?
A: Being a pharma company, the critical areas are already deep cleaned and disinfected with 70% IPA solution and other standard prescribed products. Having said that, based on the advisories and guidelines issued by the various authorities and with employee safety and well-being in focus, we
procured the required equipment and chemicals which were not only effective against the virus but were also in line with EHS guidelines. Subsequently, we kept modifying and changing products based on the health and safety advisories being issued. For e.g., we shifted to manual spray machines in place of electric foggers and did not opt for human sanitization cubicles or UVC sanitization towers and equipment due to the proven ill effects on human health.

Q. According to you, what does the near future look like?
A: The Spanish flu pandemic of the last century lasted for nearly 22 months; none of us knows how long the COVID pandemic will last. The best way to keep it at bay is through absolute adherence to defined preventive and mitigative measures. Following them is the new normal way of life and each one of us – as individuals, as groups, as organizations — has a moral responsibility to ensure collective well-being in these unprecedented times.


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