Employee Safety

As a global health care company, we strive to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

  • Decreased our construction safety recordable injury rate (RIR)
  • Placed additional emphasis on proactively assessing existing processes and equipment that presented ergonomic risks
  • Established a Global Health Center of Excellence (CoE) for our Industrial Hygiene, Biosafety, and Ergonomics programs
  • Completed 97 peer safety reviews, covering 92 percent of our active projects
  • Received a Safety Excellence Award from the Construction User Round Table (CURT)

Our approach

We seek to eliminate work-related injuries, illnesses and unplanned events from our operations through comprehensive safety programs that are part of our environmental, health and safety (EHS) management system.

Each year we set targets for leading and lagging safety metrics, including safety observations, near-miss reporting, peer safety audits, recordable injury rates and days away, reassignment or transferred (DART) rate.

Everyone who works at our sites (i.e., all employees and non-employees) must follow the standards and requirements of our EHS management system. Compliance with these requirements is measured through the site audit processes for employees and non-employees, and through peer reviews for construction. Learn more about our EHS auditing, training and how we maintain a safe work environment. Specifics are also included in the initiatives below.

Non-employee prequalification and training

Every contractor receives a detailed safety orientation and training prior to beginning work onsite. They must go through a detailed site and project safety orientation prior to gaining site access and must be renewed annually.

During construction contractor prequalification, we utilize a global contractor prequalification program to ensure we only hire safe and quality-oriented contractors. All craft workers must complete ten hours of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training (or equivalent) and all craft supervisors must complete 30 hours of OSHA training (or equivalent) before coming onsite.

Quarterly contractor performance evaluations are completed and reviewed with management to ensure compliance with procedures and foster continuous improvement. Our company includes contract provisions for termination of contracts due to unsatisfactory contractor safety performance.

We work to minimize the frequency and severity of safety and environmental incidents by focusing on proper facility design, process controls, operation and maintenance procedures, protection systems and emergency response capabilities.

Our global safety program is designed to drive a proactive safety culture and reinforce the link between our leadership behaviors and our safety and environmental objectives. We believe that through visible management, leadership and employee engagement, we can increase the awareness of hazards and help employees make the right choices when it comes to safety, health and the environment—both on and off the job. One example of leadership and employee engagement is our active site safety committees that drive program implementation and address safety issues collaboratively between management and employees.

Our injury and illness data are consolidated into a central system, enabling us to analyze trends and focus our efforts to continually improve. We communicate significant incidents, near-miss events and workplace conditions that could represent risks to our operations and sites around the world. We also proactively share corrective and preventive actions across our operating locations to allow all sites to learn from the improvements we make.

Learn more about EHS governance, roles and responsibilities.

Programs and initiatives

We are committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace for all of our employees and business partners.

Process safety

Our process safety program identifies and controls risks associated with manufacturing our human and animal health products. The program applies not only to operations that are subject to process safety regulations, but also to our pilot plants, manufacturing operations and utility areas where process hazards may exist. In addition, we have implemented a structured chemical-reaction-hazard review program for our research laboratories.

In the early stages of product development, we conduct chemical reaction and thermal testing of our intermediate materials and products to identify potential reactivity, fire and explosion hazards and environmental risks. This testing continues throughout each product’s life cycle to assure that we are aware of and can appropriately manage process risks. Global process safety professionals work with operations and engineering personnel to conduct process-hazard analyses and hazard and operability studies to thoroughly evaluate our operations. These structured reviews take place during process design, initial start-up and throughout the life of the process to ensure that our facility design, equipment, operating controls and maintenance procedures are effective in controlling process-related hazards.

Non-routine hazardous work

In recognition of industrial safety trends and our own internal assessments, we have refined our global approach to managing safety during non-routine maintenance and repair activities, as these work activities are a leading cause of serious and fatal injuries across industries. We have developed global safety standards to minimize the potential for serious incidents when our employees are working at heights, entering confined spaces and working on or near machinery, piping and electrical systems. This global effort is focused on creating a rigorous, error-free and safe approach to performing these non-routine high-hazard work activities.

Global Health Center of Excellence

We established the Global Health Center of Excellence (CoE) in 2019 that includes our company’s Industrial Hygiene, Biosafety, and Ergonomics programs. By integrating these disciplines into a single organization, the company can more effectively manage worker safety and promote employee health. The Global Health CoE improves worker safety and employee health by focusing on four vital areas:

  • Governance
  • Risk management
  • Implementation and operation
  • Program management

Through the Global Health CoE, we protect employees, customers, vendors, partners, and neighboring communities by identifying chemical, physical, and biological hazards; assessing exposures; and properly controlling risks. By systematically maintaining rigorous attention to sustainable risk management principles and controls, we can do a better job of protecting our stakeholders worldwide, enabling the organization to focus on discovering, developing, and providing innovative products and services that save and improve human and animal lives around the world.

To accomplish this, we challenge our stakeholders, executive team, and ourselves to anticipate hazards, evaluate risks, and provide effective and sustainable solutions to control both.

Industrial hygiene

Our industrial hygiene program protects employee health throughout all stages of research and manufacturing. Our professionals identify chemical, physical, and biological hazards to assess exposures and control risks. Based on industry-leading best practices, we accomplish this through a hierarchy of controls.

These are:

  1. Prevention
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering
  4. Administrative
  5. Personal protective equipment (PPE)

For example, when designing new processes and facilities, we build safety into our designs organically, by eliminating risks, substituting less hazardous processes or materials, and installing effective engineering and operational controls. We also confirm the ongoing effectiveness of these controls after installation through a robust monitoring program.

When dealing with existing processes and facilities, we use a similar approach. First, we seek to eliminate hazardous materials and processes. When impossible, we use less hazardous substitutes and then evaluate potential engineering controls to mitigate the remaining risk. Where engineering controls are insufficient or not feasible, we establish effective work practice controls including those that that may require selected types of PPE.

Biological safety

Our biological safety program professionals protect our employees, customers, vendors, partners, and neighboring communities by systematically identifying, assessing, and controlling biological risks associated with the research, development, and manufacture of our vaccines and therapeutic proteins.

Our biological risk management team drives safety by setting high performance expectations for governance, controls, strategy, planning, management, reporting, policies, processes, and corporate culture.

Our commitment to protecting human health and the environment extends to every aspect of our biological safety program, including:

  • Biosafety (preventing accidental biological release)
  • Biosecurity (preventing intentional biological release)
  • Bioethics (promoting responsible use of biological materials and technologies)
  • Sustainability (reducing our environmental footprint)
  • Product stewardship (reducing environmental hazards)


Our ergonomics team reduces employee injuries, improves human performance, and advances worker wellbeing by adapting conditions relating to tasks, equipment, and the work environment. We prioritize workers from every business in the organization, including Manufacturing, Research, and Sales, where most ergonomic injuries and illnesses result from manual material handling and repetitive motion. We provide standards to ensure ergonomic design requirements are incorporated into construction of new or renovated facilities to minimize ergonomics hazards and risk factors.

Almost 13 percent of our global, recordable injury cases are ergonomic-related. To reduce this rate, we improve the engineering design of our processes and equipment by focusing on the vital areas of training, communicating with employees, and encouraging employee participation in workplace assessments. We also evaluate body mechanics, motion and positioning during high-risk activities and establish programs that incorporate stretch and flex exercises to reduce risk of ergonomic injury.

Motor vehicle safety

The aim of our motor vehicle safety program is to promote a strong safety culture for our employees who operate vehicles for conducting company business. Our program is designed to reduce the frequency and severity of motor vehicle injuries and reduce the number of collisions, violations and vehicle-related incidents across our global network. We have implemented a global motor vehicle safety standard and adopted programs, such as telematics that provide real-time continuous feedback, to support safe driving skills and behaviors of our sales and marketing employees who operate the majority of our business-use vehicles.

Emergency preparedness and response

We prioritize the prevention of incidents through equipment and facility design, operational and maintenance procedures and employee training. Because we recognize that incidents can still occur, our EHS standards require emergency preparedness and response capabilities at all of our facilities worldwide.

Our priorities for emergency response include:

  • Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our employees
  • Preserving the environment and nearby communities
  • Protecting our physical assets

Site-specific emergency response procedures include incident reporting and management, personnel evacuation, medical/first-aid response and incident response and control. We routinely conduct emergency response drills and train employees in both job- and site-specific emergency response duties.

We conduct pre-emergency planning for credible emergency scenarios such as process upsets, fires, spills, releases, severe weather and security-related incidents.

Many of our manufacturing plants have trained emergency response teams, and mobile fire and rescue apparatus that can respond to onsite fires, medical emergencies, technical rescues and spills/releases. Most of our emergency response teams interact directly with their local community-based emergency responders, and in some cases, assist off-site when requested.

Processes for workers to report work-related hazards and hazardous situations, investigate work-related incidents and determine corrective actions and improvements needed in the occupational health and safety management system are included in EHS emergency preparedness and response and incident investigation standards and training. These standards also include information on how employees are protected against reprisal.

Loss prevention

Protecting our people, facilities, production processes and product supply chains from threats such as natural catastrophes (i.e. hurricanes, floods, windstorms, earthquakes) and fires is critical to ensuring that our products reach our customers when needed. We proactively assess and manage these risks at our facilities and at several of our strategic third-party manufacturers and warehouse providers. Our loss-prevention program focuses on eliminating or reducing the impact of potential loss events by:

  • Providing appropriate facility and process designs
  • Implementing inspection, prevention and maintenance procedures
  • Installing fire suppression, detection and specialized protection systems
  • Executing emergency response and business continuity programs

We also engage the services of globally recognized loss prevention engineering service providers to routinely inspect facilities and review new designs and facility modifications. This helps us to maintain a high standard of loss prevention that corresponds to the level of operational risk, monetary value and supply-chain importance.

Capital projects construction safety

We have a strong construction safety program with a focus on zero harm to people, property and the environment. Our Global Engineering Solutions (GES) group oversees hundreds of contractors and thousands of skilled craftworkers on our construction projects worldwide. Safety is integrated into all stages of our construction projects, beginning with the concept and design phases and carried through to detailed design and construction.

Our construction safety program mandates pre-job planning, hazard assessments and daily safety audits. We also conduct monthly peer reviews by bringing together in-house engineers, contractors, EHS and other partners to conduct thorough project safety evaluations and sharing of best practices. We completed 97 peer safety reviews in 2019, covering 92 percent of our active projects.

Within the last two years the construction industry has seen a negative trend related to availability of contractor and craft resources. The impacts of this trend are management of resource availability issues, varied levels of experience, and safety competencies. GES uses a hyper-care program adding additional supervision and safety oversight to new contractors, high risk work scope contractors and less experienced contractor craft. Additionally, GES uses a rigorous pre-qualification program through ConstructSecure (external prequalification service/program) to evaluate, score and prequalify every contractor and subcontractor evaluating their safety program, past performance, incident rates, experience modifier rate (EMR), training verification of craft and review any regulatory citations prior to allowing them to bid on any projects.

Safety for non-company personnel

We frequently work with integrated facility management (IFM) partners whose employees perform work at our sites. These contractors are required to follow their organization’s safety procedures but must ensure they are consistent with our company’s EHS standards and procedures. Additionally, they are required to identify and monitor compliance activities associated with their scope of services and meet safety-related performance objectives.

Our IFM partners pre-qualify the contractors that they use at our sites, provide those contractors with safety training, perform EHS inspections and monitor EHS performance.

Contractors are required to report and investigate all incidents and near-miss events. They also work with site-based EHS contacts to identify and implement corrective and preventive actions, which are tracked to completion. Our internal facility managers monitor IFM partner compliance with all EHS requirements.

Contractors working at our sites that are not managed by our IFM partners are pre-qualified using the same process as our embedded contractors, including verification of safety training. These contractors are assigned internal company liaisons who monitor safety and environmental compliance, perform observations of their work and verify that necessary corrective actions are taken.

International standards

We are committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace for our employees and contractors, and to complying with all applicable safety laws and regulations. In addition, we aim for EHS performance that is among the best in the pharmaceutical industry.

Our company has processes in place that are consistent with the International Labour Office (ILO) Code of Practice on Recording and Notification of Occupational Accidents and Diseases (the Code) where governments have adopted the Code. In countries that have not adopted the Code, we report to governments as required by applicable law.

For consistency across the company, and to enable us to compare our injury rates with those of other multinational companies, we use the U.S.-based OSHA record-keeping criteria for recording and tracking work-related injuries and illnesses. We require all injuries, illnesses and incidents involving our employees to be reported and investigated to determine their cause. We also require that actions be taken to prevent recurrence.

We have reviewed the ISO 18001 Standard but have not pursued certification at the corporate level because we believe that our current EHS management systems are robust and will help us to drive continuous improvement in our EHS programs and achieve our desired levels of EHS performance.

Performance data

Global safety performance20152016201720182019
Workplace safety
Recordable Injury Rate (RIR)0.480.350.330.300.30
RIR percentage change-17%-27%-6%-9%0%
Lost-Time Injury Rate (LTIR).
Fatalities11 0 0 2 0
Motor vehicle safety
Collisions per million miles (CPMM)212.419.487.296.937.01
Cases by business area (#)Lost-Time CasesRecordable Cases
Facility Management16
Global Human Health (GHH)3979
Global Support Functions (legal, HR, IT, S&E, et al.)35
Animal Health515
Manufacturing (MMD)35110
Research (MRL)825
Recordable injuries/Illnesses by causal factors (2019)Lost-Time Cases% of Recordable Cases3
Biological Exposure10.42%
Chemical Exposure83.3%
Motor Vehicle4719.6%
Physical/Environmental Exposure31.25%
Capital projects construction safety4, 520152016201720182019
Fatalities0 0 0 0 0
Facility management contractor safety720152016201720182019
FatalitiesNA NA NA 0 0
NA: Not available.
Note: Injury rates are subject to change over time, as new cases are added and case classifications change in accordance with our own requirements and applicable regulatory requirements.
1All fatalities were transportation-related, except for one high-risk work fatality in 2018.
2CPMM: Reflects both personal and business use of company-owned or -leased vehicles.
3May not total 100% due to rounding.
4LTIR/RIR: Calculated per OSHA methodology.
5Primarily reflects capital projects over $100,000 managed by our global engineering group.
6DART: days away, reassigned or transferred, calculated per OSHA 300 methodology.
7Injury rates for IFM partners; reporting initiated in 2018.
MRK_WEB20_Lost_Time_Injuries-GRAPH_v3 Global Human Health43% Animal Health 5% Global Support Functions 3% Manufacturing38% Research 9% Facilities Management 1% Lost-Time Injuries by Business Area (2019) N=91 1
MRK_WEB20_Recordable_Injuries-GRAPH_v3 Slips/Trips/Falls30% Ergonomic13% Physical/Environmental Exposure 1% Chemical/Biological Exposure 4% Struck by/Caught in28% N=240 Motor Vehicle20% Other 3% Non-ergonomic 1% Recordable Injuries by Causal Factors (2019) 1
1May not total 100% due to rounding.

In 2019, we placed additional emphasis on proactively assessing existing processes and equipment that presented ergonomic risks. Formal plans drove risk assessments and an engineering control feasibility process was established to better mitigate risk factors following the hierarchy of control principles.

We have worked steadily to drive down our workplace injury rates.

In 2019, our lost-time injury rate was 0.11, a ten percent increase from 2018. Our recordable injury rate was 0.30, the same rate as the prior year. This is our third consecutive year in the first quartile when compared against our pharmaceutical industry peers. There were no fatalities in 2019.

Last year, 30 percent of our recordable injuries were related to slips, trips and falls, with “struck-by/caught-in” and ergonomic-related injuries accounting for 28 and 13 percent of the total number of injuries, respectively. We continue to focus our efforts on reducing these types of injuries. In addition to our focus on the safe design of new facilities, we proactively address existing risks through the hierarchy of controls, focusing on eliminating high-risk tasks and improving engineering controls.

In 2019, 20 percent of our company’s recordable injuries were related to motor vehicle collisions. While we had a 1.1 percent increase in the number of collisions, normalized for miles traveled in 2019 versus the prior year, it is still significantly lower than previous years. Our global vehicle safety program includes a standard duty of care by holding both employees and managers accountable for achieving safe driving expectations.


In 2019, we received one Safety Excellence Award and one Runner Up Award for two of our safety management program projects from the Construction User Round Table (CURT). CURT is a global organization that provides an international forum for the exchange of information and expertise to improve safety, productivity and competitive advantage for the construction industry.

In 2019, we logged 9.3 million construction hours globally and achieved zero injuries on 96 percent of our capital construction projects. Our 2019 construction safety recordable injury rate (RIR) of 0.42 reflects a decrease over our 2018 rate of 0.73 and achieving a DART rate of 0.15 almost half of last year’s 0.28, showing a drop in the severity of contractor injuries.

In 2019, we had a significant increase in the number of construction hours and capital projects being implemented outside the U.S., where contractor safety cultures and performance can be less stringent. Even so, our injury rates continue to improve and be significantly better than construction industry averages.

In 2019 we had no high consequence work-related ill health, as we have had none of these over the past 12 years. Ninety percent of injuries in 2019 were injuries suffered in low risk/routine tasks. The top two injury categories included slips, trips and falls – same elevation and hand and finger cuts requiring stitches.


In 2019 our IFM partners had a total recordable injury rate (RIR) of 0.55 and a lost-time injury rate (LTIR) of 0.42. Our major IFM providers’ injury rates continue to be significantly better than industry averages.