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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

New technologies, new hazards: Need for evidence base: A report on the health status and safety measures in a biotechnology factory in Bangalore

Author(s): Sudhashree VP, Lalitha K, Surendra VHH, Rohith K

Vol. 32, No. 3 (2007-07 - 2007-09)

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Year : 2007 | Volume : 32 | Issue : 3 | Page : 178-181

New technologies, new hazards: Need for evidence base: A report on the health status and safety measures in a biotechnology factory in Bangalore

Sudhashree VP1, Lalitha K1, Surendra VHH2, Rohith K3
1 Post-graduates Department of Community Medicine, KIMS, Bangalore, India
2 Deputy Director, Medical Inspectorate of Factories, Gov of Karnataka, India
3 Occupational Health consultant, RIA Diagnostics, Bangalore, India
Date of Submission 15-Sep-2006
Date of Acceptance 27-Apr-2007

Correspondence Address:
Sudhashree V P
No.206, 15th B cross, West of Chord Road, Mahalakshmipuram, Bangalore - 560 086
India

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Keywords: Biotechnology, safety
How to cite this article:
Sudhashree VP, Lalitha K, Surendra V, Rohith K. New technologies, new hazards: Need for evidence base: A report on the health status and safety measures in a biotechnology factory in Bangalore. Indian J Community Med 2007;32:178-81
How to cite this URL:
Sudhashree VP, Lalitha K, Surendra V, Rohith K. New technologies, new hazards: Need for evidence base: A report on the health status and safety measures in a biotechnology factory in Bangalore. Indian J Community Med [serial online] 2007 [cited 2007 Nov 30];32:178-81. Available from: http://www.ijcm.org.in/text.asp?2007/32/3/178/36821

Abstract

Background: In highly competitive economies, the fast-paced development of new and improved products and services inevitably spurs the development of new technologies, of which one-fifth growth has been in the biotechnology sector. Advances in technologies provide opportunities to minimize the drudgery of work and to eliminate old hazards, but they may create new currently unrecognized risks to workers. Objectives: To assess the morbidity pattern among workers in the biotechnology industry and also to find out the health and safety measures provided to the workers. Materials and Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in a biotechnology industry in Bangalore, which covered 779 employees who underwent health examination and blood and urine investigations; of the 779 employees, 600 were permanent employees and 179 were contract employees. Results and Discussion: The common morbidity among the workers included refractory errors; allergic contact dermatitis; hypertension; abnormal pulmonary function tests (61, 10.2%), of which 23 (37.7%) were from the production department; high eosinophil count (110, 14.1%). Majority, i.e., 46 (41.8%) worked in the production department. The safety measures provided to the workers are adequate, but there is a need to insist on regular use of personal protective devices by newly employed and contract laborers.

Introduction

The industrial worker today is placed in a highly complicated environment, which is getting more complicated as man is becoming more ingenious. The fast-paced development of new and improved products and services inevitably spurs the development of new technologies. As emerging hazards are identified, the challenge shifts to development and application of effective control measures. This study is an effort to evaluate the health hazards, determine the morbidity patterns among workers in the biotechnology industry and describe the health and safety measures provided to the workers. The emphasis is on sharing the findings of the study for the benefit of all persons at risk and those responsible for managing the risks.

Biotechnology is the culmination of more than 8,000 years of human experience, using living organisms and the process of fermentation to make products such as bread, cheese, beer and wine. Presently biotechnology is applied in manufacturing processes used in health care, food and agriculture, industrial process and environment salvage, among other applications.

As an area of science, biotechnology is often defined as a combination of advances in our understanding of molecular and cellular biology, plants, animals and human genetics and how the immune system fights diseases.[1] There are four primary areas in health care in which biotechnology is currently being used - namely, medicine, vaccine, diagnostics and gene therapy. Biotechnology begins in the research laboratory and is a multidisciplinary science. Biotechnology laboratory workers are exposed to a wide variety of hazardous and toxic chemicals, recombinant and nonrecombinant biological hazards, human blood-borne pathogens, as well as radioactive materials used.[2],[3]

The manufacturing involves fermentation process and organic synthesis. The fermentation process involves plate culture, fermentation, harvesting, filtration, solvent extraction, recovery of pure material, vacuum drying and finally quality control and packaging.

Materials and Methods

The study was conducted by a team of doctors from different specialties, like Occupational Health Consultants, General Physicians, Dermatologists, Ophthalmologists, Pulmonologists and Community Medicine Specialists. The data was recorded in medical surveillance pro forma as per Indian Council of Medical Research. A total of 779 employees underwent health examination, of which 600 were permanent employees and 179 were contract employees. All the employees of the biotechnology industry were included in the study.

The health checkup included clinical examination; lab investigations like fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin, packed cell volume, total count and eosinophil count, serum cholesterol and serum triglycerides - which were analyzed using AS-400 auto analyzer. Pulmonary function test was conducted using Cosmed Kit µ Spirometer by a pulmonologist, and the results were interpreted as per American Thoracic Society Guidelines. ECG was done for those who were above 35 years of age. Health and Safety Inspection was done using the guidelines of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety checklist.

Results and Discussion

A total of 779 employees underwent health examination; of which, 600 were permanent employees and 179 were working on contract basis.The male: female ratio was 4.4:1. It was found that 251 (41.8%) of the employees were in the age group of 25-29 years, followed by 130 (21.8%) in the age group of 20-24 years. The mean age of employees was 28.9 ± 5.8 years. It was also interesting to note that the mean age of male group was found to be 28.7 ± 5.8 years; and among females, it was 29.7 ± 7.1 years.

It was observed that out of the 600 permanent employees, 316 (52.7%) were with duration of service between 1 and 5 years, followed by 138 (23%) with duration of service less than 6 months. The mean duration of service of the employees was 3.4 years with a standard deviation of 2.3 years. It was observed that 277 (35.6%) of the employees were engaged in production, followed by 151 (19.4%) in the synthetic chemistry division.

[Table - 1] shows the common morbidity pattern of the employees. The major morbidity was eye problem, seen in 141 (18.1%) of the employees, of which refractive errors constituted the major problem; followed by skin problem in 39 (5%), in which allergic contact dermatitis was the major skin condition seen. Allergic conditions like allergic rhinitis, allergic contact dermatitis, food allergy were seen in 5 (31.2%) of the employees. Out of 48 employees having cardiovascular problems, hypertension was seen in 32 employees.

[Table - 2] gives the details of the pulmonary function test conducted to observe respiratory impairment among the employees. Pulmonary function test was conducted for all the 600 permanent employees; it was not conducted for contract employees. Sixty-one (34 male and 27 female) employees were found to have abnormality in their PFT readings. All were nonsmokers. Thirty-seven (60.7%) of them had restrictive abnormality, 18 (29.5%) had obstructive abnormality and 6 (9.8%) showed mixed type of abnormality. An attempt was made to see the respiratory impairment according to the departments, which is depicted in [Figure - 1]. It is seen that 23 (37.7%) abnormal PFTs were in workers from the production department.

The abnormal eosinophil count range was found to be 12-18/mm 3 in 52 (47.3%) of the employees, followed by the eosinophil count in the range of 6-12/mm 3 in 47 (37.3%) of the employees. Out of the 110 workers with high eosinophil counts, 46 (41.8%) were from the production department, followed by 19 (17.2%) employees in the synthetic chemistry division needing further evaluation for possible reasons, including workplace air sampling and monitoring for allergic etiology [Table - 3].

Health and safety inspection

Job site-general

Health and safety inspection of the workplace was conducted by using the OSHA safety inspection guidelines.[4] Posters and "safety" warnings were available in all the work areas. Safety meeting (in-house) were held every 15 days, and one outside safety consultant visited the plant every Thursday. Ninety employees were trained for First Aid by St. John's Ambulance Association. One in-house doctor was available; and for other services, the hospitals near the factory premises are utilized. Accident-reporting procedures were well established; and in the past 1 year, there have been 5 major accidents (falls from a height and chemical burns) and 15 minor accidents (cuts, bruises, etc.). The work areas had standard operating procedures for handling hazardous substances, and material safety data sheets were available both as a detailed document and as user-friendly, concise information for quick reference. Restricted door entry to certain work areas, where only authorized and concerned persons could enter, was allowed. The materials were properly stored and labeled legibly.

Housekeeping and sanitation

The work areas were neat and well maintained, and there were standard operating procedures for handling hazardous substances. There were adequate eye-flushing facilities, emergency showers available, especially in the lab sections.

Hazard communication

There was a written hazard communication program. Employees were trained regarding the hazards in their work area. Material safety data sheets were available both as a detailed document of file and as user-friendly concise information for quick reference.

Fire safety

There were stringent measures taken to prevent fire hazard. Adequate number and type of fire extinguishers were available. Fire safety training was imparted to all once in 3 months, and mock alarm and emergency responses were conducted regularly. Though personal protective equipment was provided, some of the workers were not using it at the time of inspection; and chemical burns due to industrial accidents, which were seen in five employees, were due to non-use of personal protective devices.

Type A: Used for fires which can be put off by water, e.g., organic material like wood, paper

Type B: Fires which cannot be put off by water, e.g., petrol products, paints

Type C: For chemical fire

Type D: For flammable metals

Type E: For electrical fire

Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment was provided according to the workers' need, and they were trained to use it. But the workers' perception of the hazards were quite low and they were not very keen to use protective equipment all the time, especially ear plugs and earmuffs, for noise hazard. There is a need to increase the awareness of the workers regarding the hazards and the long-term consequences of non-usage of personal protective equipment.

Work permits

Safe work permit procedures were followed. In some restricted areas, the entry into the work areas was by secret pin codes and only authorized persons could gain entry.

Medical surveillance

Periodic medical examinations were being conducted. But pre-employment/ pre-placement examinations were not being conducted.

Recommendations

Need to increase the awareness of workers regarding the hazards and long-term consequences of non-usage of personal protective equipment.
Need for safety department to concentrate on newly appointed employees and contract laborers with regard to proper handling of chemicals and use of personal protective equipment, especially to avoid chemical burns - which were observed in five employees.
Allergy tests for employees with high eosinophil count and workplace air monitoring to identify the role of indoor allergens in the workplace.
All the employees with abnormal lab investigations need further evaluation.

References

1. Jitendraprasad. Biotechnology Research and Industry Survey. 1st ed. Vadamai Publishers: Coimbatore; 1995.
2. Mage J. Stellman, Encyclopaedia of Occupational health and Safety. 4th ed, Vol-2, p. 77.30 - 79.18
3. Nora Emerging technologies team: Emerging technologies: Control of workplace hazard for the 25th Century setting the Research Agenda "Workshop in Chicago", March 1998 Discussion paper.
4. Safety Inspection, Texas workers, Compensation Commission, Workers health and Safety Division, Safety Education and Training Programme. [Last updated on 2002 Aug]. Available from http://www.osha.gov.

Figures

For larger view, please click on image

Figure 1: Respiratory impairment amongst the workers of different department

Figure 1: Respiratory impairment amongst the workers of different department

Tables

Table 1: Distribution of employees according to their morbidity pattern

Table 1: Distribution of employees according to their morbidity pattern

Table 2: Classification of workers according to abnormality shown in pulmonary function test (abnormal PFT - n=61)

Table 2: Classification of workers according to abnormality shown in pulmonary function test (abnormal PFT – n=61)

Table 3: Distribution of employees according to abnormal eosinophil count and work area (n=110)

Table 3: Distribution of employees according to abnormal eosinophil count and work area (n=110)

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