How Pharma Uses “Smoke Studies”​ To Help Keep Employees Safe During The Pandemic

In early 2020 many industries opted for remote working. Afton Scientific knew that this was not an option. We needed to remain open to produce life-saving drugs. The challenge was to prevent community spread should one employee become infected.

Early on we implemented standard safety protocols, such as:


  • Twice daily temperature checks

  • Mask protocols

  • Hand sanitizing stations

  • Employee education

  • Outdoor morning meetings

The nature of pharmaceutical manufacturing often requires employees to work in close proximity for long periods. We asked ourselves how we could minimize the virus spreading in the air to other masked employees.

Air flow patterns in cleanrooms are designed to assure sterility by observing the sweeping of airborne micros and particles away from important areas with controlled air flow. Smoke studies are conducted to observe those air flow patterns.

We applied the same air flow analyses in non-sterile work areas to determine:

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  • Where targeted airflow would be helpful

  • Where to add plexiglass panels.


For example, in our inspection rooms operators work in close proximity. Based on the path of the non-toxic smoke we added ductwork to give each workstation its own air supply. Then we followed the air to a safe capture location.


Thick plexiglass panels were also added between each station and operators are masked at all times.

While a few of our staff have become infected with COVID outside of work, each was an isolated incident and there has been no community spread among any employees.

According to CDC and Virginia guidelines, with each positive result (less than .5%) we conducted internal contact tracing and determined which employees required testing and quarantining. In all instances tests were negative and employees were able to return safely to work.

As an essential business we are now well on our way to having our staff vaccinated. We will continue to mask and observe best-practices while looking forward to the next new normal.