Pharmaceutical Jobs Have Specific Concerns

Jan. 1, 2005
Youve spent years knocking on their door. Youve flattered them when you happened to run across them in public. Youve given their secretaries flowers and concert tickets. Youve brought in donuts for breakfast and pizza for lunch for their entire office, many times. Every three to six months, youve mailed them your company brochures with personal cover letters. In short, youve done everything shy of

You’ve spent years knocking on their door. You’ve flattered them when you happened to run across them in public. You’ve given their secretaries flowers and concert tickets. You’ve brought in donuts for breakfast and pizza for lunch for their entire office, many times. Every three to six months, you’ve mailed them your company brochures with personal cover letters.

In short, you’ve done everything shy of outright bribery and begging to get on pharmaceutical companies’ short list of preferred contractors and nothing worked.

Then you took a couple of small dental and doctor office upfits. There was that one crunch job at the local hospital that involved installing a dozen patient room medical gas headwalls and several hundred feet of medical air, vacuum and oxygen piping within a tight 48-hour period.

Then, for no apparent reason,a junior estimator from one of the pharmaceutical companies called your office and invited you to bid on a research laboratory upfit. You crunched the numbers and got the job.

Now what? Do you plan to go in and run your job as you would a typical multistory office building or a school? For the sake of you and your company, I certainly hope not!

Two things drive all pharmaceutical companies and therefore their relationships with vendors and outside contractors:

1. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a drug that eventually makes it to market. Every single second of downtime of lab space and teams of super-highly paid research scientists means that you — the contractor — cannot afford to hold them up for a single second longer than necessary, and

2. The Food and Drug Administration is not just a stern taskmaster for them but one that demands transparency and accountability for all actions on their part. That means it rolls downhill onto you and your company as well.

Safety, of your customer’s personnel and facilities and of your own people, is always a paramount concern in doing any job at any pharmaceutical company. The quickest way to get immediately taken off the preferred bidders list is to have a lost-time accident. Any accident had better be a true act of God.

Don’t send just yourself and the guys on the crew to the required safety training seminars. Show how truly committed you are to safety by sending a couple people from the office, possibly a company executive if you can, the estimator who did the job if you didn’t do it yourself and a company driver if he’s going to be delivering materials to the job.

Even if the customer charges you for each participant, stack the required safety training to the rafters with your people to show how committed you are to safety. The customer will be suitably impressed.

In the pre-construction phase, crawl the job as extensively as the customers will allow you to, popping every ceiling tile, inspecting every existing fixture, looking at every single physical inventory item within the space. Take as many photos as you can. If the customer won’t allow photos, take measurements and make notes of everything in the space.

Do a little handholding and PR before the job begins, if you can. Talk to the scientists and researchers who will be using the space, explaining exactly what you’ll be doing and why and when. Ask them if they have any special concerns or questions, then write them down in your project management journal and address them as best you can.

Before the job begins, obtain at least two if not three of every consumable and tool that you think you’ll need. That way you’ll have a spare if a drop cord gets a nick in it and you know from your mandatory safety seminar that nicked cords can’t be repaired but must be tagged out and taken off the job.

During the process of doing the job, housekeeping should be an ongoing, almost hourly process. If a crew makes a mess, don’t wait until the end of the day to clean it up. Do it right away. It reflects part of the safety-first mindset.

All consumable and permanent materials and fixtures should be traceable to their manufacturers and to recognized national and international standards agencies. For Pete’s sake, your first pharmaceutical job is not the place where you want your guys using off-brand, residential-grade junk.

Any part, fitting or fixture that looks even slightly questionable should be taken off the job and used someplace else that isn’t a mission-critical application. Use only the absolute best of the best on this job.

If your company uses an MSDS subscription service or has old and raggedy MSDS manuals, don’t even think about it. Create a set of job-specific MSDS manuals with actual new pages for everything that needs MSDS information. Put the sheets inside binders that are labeled on the spine and on the cover as being created for that job.

Doing contract work for pharmaceutical companies requires a special mindset and a firm commitment to doing the job in a world-class manner. Every job, by definition, is taking place in a world-class facility. Embrace this world-class commitment to safety and quality. You’ll be assured of at least having a shot at some of the highest margin work out there.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached at 919/851-9550 or at [email protected].

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