The people working at Amgen Dun Laoghaire (ADL) faced a challenging situation when the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading around the globe. As a manufacturing and packaging facility, they had to keep operations running to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medicines for patients, while rethinking many aspects of how they work to keep staff safe.
Months later, the new normal is starting to feel like business as usual, and some staff wonder whether certain pandemic-era changes could continue even after the pandemic is over.
Amy Dowdall, a senior associate in Packaging & Inspection at ADL, was among those designated to continue working on-site in mid-March, while many of her colleagues transitioned to working from home. "It’s essential that there is someone here all the time to make sure the batches are being turned around on schedule and the products are getting out to the patients," she says. "At first I felt a bit of heightened awareness about being on-site, but now we’ve settled into a routine and it feels pretty normal."
Dowdall says one of the biggest adjustments for staff who continue to work on the manufacturing and inspection floors was the implementation of a new "pod" system, in which each person is assigned to work with a small group of about 10 people. Limiting contact to just a handful of people helps keep individual staff members safe, and it can prevent the virus from spreading throughout the site if one person was to get sick.
"The pod system was one of our safety measures, but a lot of staff have actually enjoyed working in the pods," Dowdall says. "The small groups have been helpful for training new staff and familiarizing people with different tasks. I’ve gotten feedback from the shifts that they’re getting to know each other better, they understand their tasks better, and they’ve found the smaller groups to be beneficial."
For staff who are not required to be on-site, the ability to work from home is another change that Dowdall says has gone more smoothly than people initially expected. "Everything is actually running very well with a lot of people working from home," she says.
Overall, the efforts at ADL to continue delivering a steady, uninterrupted supply of medicines has been a success, with no impact to production numbers or timelines while staff remain safe and healthy. "We're working at the same capacity as before the pandemic, and we never had to scale anything back," Dowdall says. "If anything, we’re busier now because one of our departments is launching a new product."
Some aspects of the pandemic response in Ireland are starting to roll back as the COVID-19 case number decline. That includes the recent reopening of retail shops, with bars and restaurants opening soon, but for now, Dowdall doesn’t mind taking a wait-and-see approach. "At first, I was anxious about all the changes that were happening," she says, "but now I’m more concerned about returning too quickly to the way things were before."