7 Things to Bear in Mind About Human Error in the Pharmaceutical Industry

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The saying goes, “To err is human….” And this is certainly true when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. If humans are involved, as we usually are, there are bound to be a couple of mishaps. Even when we rely on machinery and technology, there is still room for error. Surprisingly, the more technological advances that are made, the more visible human error becomes in the manufacturing process. Machines and technology can be incorrectly told to do the wrong thing by a human or can be improperly maintained or loaded. But the key to eliminating human error lies in understanding why and how these things happen. Once we get to the real root of the problem, we can eliminate it. 

1. Procedures

In the old days, pharmacies and apothecaries would use things like a pill counter, a mortar and pestle, and various molds to create their pharmaceuticals. But although these items are still a necessary part of the trade, they have taken on new shapes and forms that allow for the mass production of pills, suppositories, capsules, syrups, and creams. 

As we have moved through time, we have found ways to automate and streamline some of these procedures in an effort to become more efficient and to reduce the likelihood of human error. When procedures are not followed and there is no one to ensure that the procedures are 

2. Communication

Keeping the line of communication open and clear within the company helps to cut down on mistakes. When everyone is clear on what is expected of them and how to approach and carry out their tasks. Shifts, teams, and management need to be checking in with one another so that everyone can be productive and safe. Consumers should be able to trust the products being put to market from pharmaceutical companies without worrying that the necessary checks and balances are flawed. 

3. Training

All employees, from the president to the janitorial staff need to be properly trained. When each individual knows their role and how to perform it, there are fewer chances for things to go wrong. Training absolutely has to be more than a handbook or a one-time event. Adequate training takes time and should be continuous. On the job training is a must so that employees can get better acquainted with the practical and real-life applications of their duties. When training includes what the job is, how to properly perform the job and the reasons why it is important to do their job in specific manners, employees can move forward more confidently and with greater accuracy.

4. Changing the Culture

The culture of any pharmaceutical business must include pride in the work and a commitment to excellence. A poor work ethic and a lack of understanding of the impact their job performance has on the consumer can bring down the morale and overall culture of the business. Companies that are suffering from routine mistakes ultimately end up losing profits because there is a lot that goes into changing the culture of a company, compensating injured parties, recalling product and more.

5. Investigating the Cause

When it comes to investigating a pharmaceutical error, there are many paths to take. It helps to conduct interviews and issue questionnaires as close to the time of the incident as possible. The human memory isn’t always truthful or long, so getting as much accurate detail relating to the error as you can make a difference in sourcing the hiccup. Finger-pointing won’t make the investigation any easier, because errors will often have several contributing factors, sort of like a domino effect. 

After finding out what happened and who was involved, it is necessary to look into why it happened. Understanding the why is just as important a step as any. Once the why is identified, new procedures and systems can be implemented to prevent the same thing from happening again.

6. Supervision and Evaluations

Each unit or area within the business needs to have its very own checks and balances, and those checks and balances also need oversight. Properly trained supervisors who spend less time within an office can better monitor the tasks being performed. Pre-job briefs and instructions should be given daily to ensure that everyone is clear on what is expected to happen during the shift.

Evaluations can serve as incentives for employees to be more detailed and careful with their duties. When employees know that their job performance will be evaluated at certain intervals, they will be more likely to put more effort into what they are doing. Incentives can come in the form of raises, gift cards, free lunches, certificates and other tokens of appreciation. Having something else to work towards, besides a steady paycheck, can increase product quality as well as employee morale.

7. Quality Control

A quality control department is just as important as a research and development department. This is a critical step that cannot be skipped and may need a little tweaking to ensure that any errors are caught before a product hits the market. Having several inspections at different stages of the process can greatly reduce errors, and allow problems to be caught before they spread far and wide. 

Quality control inspectors need to pay attention to detail and should be patient and methodical. Having the inspection procedures written and displayed for employees charged with this task is one way to eliminate procedural errors that could be avoided. Between checklists and proper supervision, human error doesn’t have to be commonplace.

Human error is a result of human behavior. Errors occur because the mind is not perfect, it wanders and is easily swayed, misleads and confused. Stress, illness, lack of rest, inattention and so much more are contributing factors in human error. There are lots of ways to reduce the instances of human error within the pharmaceutical industry. Human error can undoubtedly be prevented when everyone is committed to doing so.

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