It costs an average of $500 million to discover and develop one new medicine. And it takes between 12 and 15 years for that new medicine to reach the pharmacy shelf. So, in the drug research and pharmaceutical manufacturing environment, competitive strategies must focus on quality and safety.

Amidst regulatory compliance pressures, tight budgets and demands to get products to market quickly, pharmaceutical manufacturers need every advantage to ensure efficient supply chain and profitable production practices. Given the number of hazardous chemicals involved in the manufacturing processes, it is essential that employees have immediate access to material safety data sheets (MSDS).

Making the move

While pharmaceutical manufacturers may realize they need to adopt a software or Internet-based chemical management system, making the change may seem overwhelming. Moving from a manual MSDS system to an electronic system requires some homework. In the long run, it pays to know what to look for when choosing an MSDS management system provider.

No matter what type of industry you are in, here is a checklist of the features you should require in a chemical management software application or Internet-based system:

  • Customization and ease of access. Does the system have advanced features including full MSDS administration, indexing and retrieval of key information, reports, labels, MSDS collections, attachments, location assignments, user-defined fields and more? A provider should be able to customize the system to meet your company's unique needs. Additionally, the system should allow employees at all sites to have immediate access to vital MSDS information through centralized work stations, the Internet or an Intranet.

  • Platform. Software should be available on a Web platform, and ideally on a totally secured application service provider (ASP) basis. Under this scenario when software and hardware upgrades are required, they can be made at a very low cost and accommodate site-specific functionality.

  • Revision management. Clearly, one of the ongoing problems in chemical management is staying on top of information updates. A credible MSDS data services company should provide comprehensive updates and revision management, including contacting chemical manufacturers on a regular basis. In fact, a most customer-friendly service company is one that can make same-day hazardous chemical data updates.

  • Conversion of hard copy to electronic. Some data services companies are able to convert text, however you need to be assured of the quality of the conversion. Some companies attempt to cut costs by simply using a scanned image - which shows a 30 percent failure rate when it comes to legibility - instead of the higher quality text conversion, which is 100 percent legible. A reputable provider will verify each text file character-by-character against the original document to ensure the accuracy and legibility of text conversion.

  • Searchability. An electronic MSDS management system should permit searching by chemical or generic names. It is also helpful if MSDS can be retrieved through a text search for words or phrases anywhere within the body of the document.

  • Depth and diversity of specialized services. First and foremost, the service provider you select should have the capability and experience to configure and serve your company's national and international sites. Secondly, the provider should have the ability to adapt to enterprise-wide software systems such as maintenance, inventory, purchasing, environment, labeling and Web training. For example, they should offer specialized services such as customized secondary labeling of containers (labels should include manufacturer information and the user's choice of key MSDS information), and emergency MSDS faxing to provide urgent care information on demand - translated in languages germane to the needs of multinational companies. Data services companies can also create completely customized software packages that assist with regulatory reporting activities such as those required under the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act.

    Don't risk employee safety and OSHA noncompliance. By using the guidelines above, you'll help maximize the elements that contribute to productivity and competitiveness in your workplace, now and for the future.

    SIDEBAR: Electronic advantages

    As new processes are employed to speed pharmaceutical production and product introduction, chemical management has evolved as well. Customized software and Internet-based systems have opened up a new world for MSDS management. Managing chemicals electronically:

    • Allows employers and employees alike access to MSDS information from virtually any computer in the workplace - and across sites.
    • Eliminates the need for hard copy MSDS binders.
    • Enhances searchability - users can search by worksite or by many key fields such as chemical or generic names, or even the name of the manufacturer.
    • Reduces emergency response time to as few as two minutes.