Accidents by Flood and Field

Cautionary notes from the files of "Control"
Oct 02, 2006

A fire sprinkler named Katrina?



"A fork lift operator at our distribution center raised the fork too high at an unfortunate location and broke off a fire-sprinkler head," recounts our GMP Agent-In-Place. "The water in the sprinkler system was under pressure and had a high-volume flow to suppress fires, but it was also stagnant. This dirty water cascaded out of the sprinkler head and soaked not only the operator, but also numerous pallets, including cardboard boxes containing our products. One product was soaked so thoroughly that the water seeped under the plastic flip-off seal on the sterile, injectable product. The product was evaluated for possible salvage, but we soon found mold growing under the seal, and millions of dollars worth of product was destroyed."

And again! "After several corporation changes, our division was sold, and we had farmed our distribution out to a contractor," our GMP Agent-In-Place continues. "A couple of years later, another fork lift operator raised the fork too high and broke off a fire-sprinkler head, soaking the operator and 43 full pallets of product. This time, however, the pallets were completely covered with plastic and stretch wrap, so the product could be salvaged."

Working in the drenches

"Arriving to work one fine winter morning, we found a flood of water cascading down the stairs of the laboratory and out the door," reports our GMP Agent-In-Place. "Not just a trickle, but inches of water! It had been an exceptionally cold night, and the fire sprinkler header pipe froze, then broke. Apparently the header pipe hadn't been insulated properly against extreme cold temperatures. Nothing much was damaged because the break occurred along an exterior wall, but the laboratory was out of commission for a couple of days."

My barrel runneth over

"It started as a routine, annual test of the emergency shower in the hallway—one of those where you pull the chain and stand under it to flush dangerous chemicals off," notes our GMP Agent-In-Place. "To perform the test, the mechanic moved an empty, topless barrel under the shower and pulled the chain. Because it was for emergency use only, no drain was provided.

"The shower got stuck in ON position, and the mechanic couldn't shut it off! The barrel overfilled, and the water started swamping the hallway floor and making its way to the production areas. The water was finally turned off at the source, and the mess was cleaned up After that, a local shut-off valve was installed at each shower!"

Retaining water?

"We had an older facility—meaning it hadn't been refurbished or kept up to date," says our spin-doctor GMP Agent-In-Place. "In such facilities, the retain product storage areas are stuck in out-of-the-way locations such as the basement under the autoclaves. Then, the autoclave drain pipe leaked, flooding the retain samples stored beneath it, ruining the cartons, and rusting the cabinets.

"The corrective action was to put drip pans beneath the leaks to catch the water, and then pipe the drip pans to the floor drains. They couldn't be bothered to fix the source of the water, as that required moving the autoclave. Ultimately, the autoclave was replaced, the drain pipe was fixed, and the retain sample storage area moved to a more suitable location, but not until years later. Luckily, FDA inspectors never noticed."

Pharmaceutical Technology's monthly "Agent-in-Place" column distills true-life cautionary tales from the secret files of Control, a senior compliance officer. If you have a story of clueless operators, oblivious management, inopportune lapses of judgment, or Murphy's Law in action, please send it to Control at
We won't use any names, but if we do use your tale of disaster, courage, or just plain weirdness, Control will send you a coveted Pharmaceutical Technology t-shirt.