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Ensuring laboratory safety

astrazeneca

Ann-Britt Önnered and Linda Jervelius manage Quality Assurance at a microbiology laboratory and share their insights about maintaining a secure and hygienic laboratory environment, a crucial part of lab life.

AstraZeneca’s microbiology laboratory in Södertälje, south of Stockholm, handles end products from production as well as analyzing water tests and environmental hygiene tests for microorganisms. A total of 25 employees work in the lab. Ann-Britt Önnered and Linda Jervelius manage the Quality Assurance Microbiology at the lab. Önnered and Jervelius are unit managers for two different work groups, but have the same main assignment – to ensure safety and hygiene at the lab. Önnered and Jervelius are responsible for the microbiological cleanliness and ensuring that the lab has the proper routines for this. There is also the other type of sanitation issue that concerns dangerous substances, for which they have to make sure that the lab works according to the correct procedures.

“We also need to secure resources, make sure that legal frameworks are followed, that the employees have knowledge of, and work according to policy,” says Önnered.

Regular check-ups are made of the entire lab and Önnered and Jervelius review the findings together with the employees. Security checks are also made twice a year where the laboratory is inspected from a security perspective to identify areas of improvements.

Creating a safe workplace

Working according to the established rules for safety and cleanliness in the lab is everyone’s responsibility. But it is Önnered’s and Jervelius’ job to make sure that the guidelines are followed, something that from time to time can be a challenging task. A fundamental part of a good – and safe – working environment is a climate of openness, they both stress. The aim is try to create a safe place where everyone feels free to point out any sort of problem or reflection, explains Jervelius.

“An important part of the job is working preventively together with the staff members, addressing any potential issue or recent episode instantly,” Önnered adds. “We always make sure that our colleagues get the support that they need if something isn’t working. That is well-established in the whole process.”

There is also a safety department that provides them with new information on events that can be discussed with the lab group, Jervelius points out. Risk assessments have been carefully made of all potential hazards and in general there is a thorough review to minimize the chance of accidents. Products that call for extra precautions are analyzed in a security laboratory and Jervelius and Önnered also hold briefings with all of the staff members as soon as new substances are introduced. Safety measures are essential, both the in handling of the actual substances and in the sterilizing processes.

“Substrate manufacturing for example can involve dealing with very hot bottles. Part of the job is thus to make sure that we have all the right safety equipment, such as heatproof gloves, as well as ensuring that all employees are familiar with the safety equipment,” says Jervelius.

More strict regulations

Ann-Britt Önnered has been working with safety and quality assurance for more than a decade. She studied to become a Medical Laboratory Scientist and started out working at the County Council. After a while she moved to an industry job at a smaller firm and then started her career at AstraZeneca. Microbiology and quality assurance have been her key focus for the past 13 years. Since Ann-Britt started working with quality assurance some things have changed, such as more strict requirements for laboratories.

“Today the requirements for laboratory procedures are much tougher than they were five years ago,” she notes. “Nowadays the demands for laboratory work are as high as for production, which I find to be a huge change that takes some time to adjust to. New guidelines are constantly issued, which you need to be aware of and acquaint yourself with, as well as implement in the lab and validate with the staff members. Luckily, we have colleagues who help us stay updated on the latest regulatory news.”

For Linda Jervelius the insight into quality assurance has been a more recent experience. She is a molecular biologist and pursued a postgraduate career within infection biology. Then she worked for a few years as a Research Assistant before becoming unit manager at the AstraZeneca laboratory a couple of years ago.

“These two years have been really interesting and exciting. It’s also quite different from a job in the academic world, especially as regards to documentation and security work. The information about all of the regulatory procedures and responsibilities are more explicit, and at the same time it is easier to get every kind of support,” she says.

The best part of the job? That it is constantly challenging and diverse.

“I love the fact that you get the possibility of interacting on so many levels. In this job you collaborate with different types of people, working with staff from operational, laboratory and production activities to safety officers and laboratory directors. Actually, a huge part of the job is really about interaction and collaboration. So some good advice, if you are interested in a similar career, is to have a liking for collaborative work,” says Linda.

Ann-Britt also enjoys that fact that the work is so varied. For her, it is the constant variety of what each new work day has in store that thrills her.

“Even if you have a plan set up for each day you never know what will happen. All sorts of things can come up that need to be solved. That’s the beauty of microbiology. It’s never black or white and it always provides you with new challenges,” concludes Ann-Britt.

 

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