I am clean, You are clean, Everything is clean!

In our increasingly aseptic world, it is natural to expect a pharmaceutical company to be clean. Extra clean. Totally clean. Our dishwasher soap contains antibacterial agents, our handwhashing soap does too, our shower cabinet are disinfected with powerful chlorine derivatives, we filter our drinking water or buy it in bottles : We do not tolerate any contaminant in our environment. Hey, some even start to sneeze in a more contamination-controlled way. Ours sleeves do suffer from this though!
What about our habits within the plants?
Cleanliness in our plants is first a matter of personnal habits. But also a collective way of thinking. Everything start with oneself however. Then and only then can we start thinking about the others. Not about the RULES we should force onto the others, but rather how to HELP them respect the standards and regulation about cleanliness.
How can we become and stay clean?
A few rules must be respected. The Canadian regulation, well most of the regulations I would say, provide us with a few hints when it mentions the requirement to have written sanitation and health programs, etc. A few important paragraphs about the design of equipments and production rooms are also helpful. Everything is there to help us control contamination.
Control… not eliminate. Contamination is caused by the rooms and equipment, of course, but it is mainly due to humans, their habits and behaviors… more specifically their bad habits and behaviors.
Sometimes, one wonders how different we really are from our cavemen ancestors. Oh, for sure, mammoths and sabertooths tigers are not part of our daily worries (although a recent article in Time about obesity and the recent studies about hierarchal harassement come to mind…), but as far as hygiene is concerned… Remove the chemicals we use to cover up our messes and observe…
The water bottle that is barely rinced and re-used for weeks.
The coffee pots that become so dark you have to guess if coffee is still in there or not.
The coffee mug that always look full (ok,ok guys‘ mugs!).
The partial, very partial, cleaning of the restrooms .
The plates left to grow on the department kitchen countertop.
The dishtowel used for weeks without a single wash.
The hand washing, the cruelly absent handwashing!
A recent article in an American newspaper mentioned that only 50% of people (yes, men AND women included) wash their hand regularly. A more recent exercice during a conference on contamination control for one of my clients had the participants vote (using anonymous televoting devices) on their handwashing habits…. And showed similar results if somewhat higher.
We are not there yet! And all the chemicials in the world will not help us! They might even hinder our efforts to fight the bugs by decreasing our normal immune response…
The question is then : WHY?
Are we convinced our employees, our colleagues, understand what is contamination? And how can contamination occur and propagate? It always stuns me out of my wits to realize that the basic scientific education our school system provide to our kids (and we were kids once… long ago… but I remember!) is deficient. For most people at least. Science-educated people included!
Well, I must correct myself here. Most people are now more aware of the latest scientific discoveries than ever before in the history of mankind. Thanks to the TV and now more and more the internet, the all-powerful web,  scientific news is covered in a very adequate fashion (and we ALL know that whatever is on the net is obviously TRUE… ;-)). Where the whole things falls apart is when one goes from the TV report to the reality of the kitchen… or the shop floor. The crucial link between the recent scientific advances and the day-to-day habits is frequently missing.
This is where the HPI team comes in!
With the coming workers shortage, our companies will be forced to complete the basic education that our workers lack. Up to a certain point, we are going back to the feudal system when the lord of the land would supply food and shelter in exchange for services. More and more, we will have to provide more training for our inexperienced new workers.
The school system cannot adapt rapidly enough for our needs.
On top of that, the younger generation of workers expect more out of their employer than any group before. What a great opportunity again to make them contribute to solve this challenging situation! These young employees are used to contribute (just read their blogs and twitters) and share (just watch their facebook or myspace pages). They thrive on searching the latest video on youtube, Yahoo and Google. They might even, gulp!, find a solution to your most vexing problem by telling you what your competitor did before you even know you have a problem!!! But they do not know it all.
Our pharmaceutical environment and its strict requirements is most alien to new workers. By adhering to a comprehensive education program from day one the new workers will be up to speed in a few weeks. Not only will they do less mistakes, but they will also be able to detect and help correct current mistakes done by the older employees. The latter might know the environment and its requirements, their mind set might require a few adjustments as far as continuous learning is concerned. Another great opportunity to pair-up the X and Y, veterans and Y, veterans and X and oh yes all the boomers who might not want to depart right away… (Especially these days, during the black September of 2008).
Let’s go back to the drawing board and teach the new generation about the causes of contamination and how to change our behavior to prevent it. Everything you teach must be based on THEIR comprehension of the environment. Not YOURS. The best way to learn about this is to ASK them. And them let them perform.
A great master, Thiagi, told the participants in a conference I attended :
“Let the inmates run the asylum”
Well, they are not crazy, but they do want to run the show. Just show them the rules to respect and listen to their suggestions for the new rules to implement and HOW to implement them. Explain to them that :
Handwashing is mandatory.
Mop rotation is mandatory.
Pipets must not be re-used.
Construction workers’boots CAN contaminate.
THEN let them find solutions! Involve them in the metrics (yes the metrics, because, as Drucker said “what you value, you measure!”) And watch the wonders…
Oh, and do not forget to remember the most important word in the whole world… their name.
Have fun, learn well and stay compliant!
Keep on having fun educating your colleagues!
“It’s not knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know.”
Anthony Robbins

Par François Lavallée, M. Sc.


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