Mankind Pharma’s Dehradun plant has around five hundred employees divided into three shifts, manufacturing tablets, capsules and injectables for export. Soumya Panda, Associate Vice-President and Site Head of the plant spoke to Mrigank Warrier, Special Correspondent, Clean India Journal about how his team has kept the engine running throughout the pandemic:
Q. When the lockdown was imposed, what was your immediate reaction and response?
A: We are in the business of manufacturing lifesaving drugs, so we could not afford to pause production, particularly during Covid times. So our top management sat together to work out how we can keep going in the new normal. We examined government guidelines and put together our own, which would have to be implemented across all our sites. These guidelines covered everything from the moment an employee steps into the facility to the time he leaves.
Q. Please describe how an employee enters your site during pandemic times.
A: Since employees were using public transport to reach our facility earlier, we now send out company buses to pick them up. These are sanitised after every few trips. if the capacity of the bus was 42, only 21 employees are allowed per trip, only one in each seat. Before entry, employees’ status on the Aarogya Setu app is checked. As soon as an employee comes into the plant, he has to clean his hands, first with liquid soap and water, followed by drying using automatic dryers. This is followed by hand sanitiser. After this, he has to go for thermal screening, where history of any sickness is also noted. We have markings placed to ensure physical distancing everywhere, from the entry points to the shop floor.
Q. What do you do if an employee’s temperature is found to be raised?
A: If an employee’s temperature is raised, he is held back and sent home, where our company doctor will be in continuous touch with him. if the fever continues for two days, he is sent for a medical checkup and a Covid test. If it turns out to be positive, our HR is in constant touch with him and his family, and a kit consisting of immunity supplements is sent. Moral support is important; he should feel that this is just another illness, which will soon pass.
Q. How has the manufacturing zone changed during the pandemic?
A: We have divided the manufacturing unit into six different zones, each of which is subdivided. If any individual in a zone is found Covid positive, the other individuals in the zone will be tested, while those in other zones can continue with their work uninterrupted. Each zone is colour-coded; for example, if you’re in the blue zone, you’re in Zone 4. Each zone has its own allocated bathrooms as well. Pharma has gone in for automation; where five people were required for a job, now only two are required, so distancing is not difficult. At the end of every day, each employee has to submit his contact list of the names of people he has come in close contact with on that day, before he exits from the plant.
Q. What other measures have you introduced?
A: We have introduced sensor based taps in all toilets and the canteen. A few areas already had these; we installed new ones in the remaining areas as soon as the pandemic started. Those who work in administrative roles have been asked to work from home, so our employee strength at the factory has been reduced by 10-12%. In the canteen, we allow only two people at each table, and there is a barrier between the two, to maintain sufficient distance.
Q. How are the manufacturing areas and machines cleaned at your site?
A: There are two types of cleaning required for machines; general for the machine, and special for the parts that come in contact with the drug. For the latter, we do both cleaning and sterilisation, first with water, then dried and sent for autoclaving. For the rest of the machine, we use 70% IPA or hydrogen peroxide. We clean each machine after each batch of drugs is manufactured; the overall area, including packing area, is cleaned once a day. Some areas are cleaned once every shift, depending upon the classification of the area.
Q. What tools and equipment are used?
A: We use both tools and machines for cleaning. During the pandemic, cleaning frequency has increased. Bathrooms and toilet seats are cleaned after every use. In the clean room, we rely on manual cleaning. We use mops that are discarded after a single use, and the cleaning solution has to be changed in certain areas. Corridors are cleaned by ride-on sweepers. Our housekeeping staff – which is contractual – has increased by 30% during the pandemic.
Q. What PPE is required in pharma manufacturing?
A: Masks are mandatory before entry. When employees go to their respective working zones, they have a different gowning procedure. They exchange their street clothes for a primary gown i.e a pant and shirt, before entering the manufacturing area. In classified areas, they have to wear a sterilised secondary gown, where everything is covered by a boiler suit and head gear. Whenever they come out – for any reason – the gown is discarded and a new one worn before entering again. Most packing is done in an automated manner. Whenever there is manual packing, and four five employees are at one table, face-shields are provided.
Q. Covid is a disease that is primarily air-borne. How are you protecting the indoor air quality at your facility?
A: In classified areas, we have HEPA filters that filter out particles larger than 0.3 microns. In non-classified areas, we do not recirculate air. Earlier, 10% of inside air was recirculated; during the pandemic, it’s 100% outside air.
Q. How is entry and exit of goods regulated in a safe manner?
A: We have a dedicated area for receiving and storing. Those who are unloading goods have to wear a boiler suit before coming into the factory. Each individual container is sanitised with 70% IPA. We have kept a sanitisation machine at the entrance for incoming trucks, which are allowed in only after sanitisation. Our products are loaded into closed, sanitised trucks for distribution.