Manufacturing during difficult times

Social distancing. It’s what we have all been doing to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and the community around us healthy and safe.

However, social distancing during this pandemic comes with a big caveat. True distancing can only be practiced if your job can go remote. That is, if you can work from home and stay connected with your tasks virtually.

The unfortunate truth is that most manufacturing jobs can’t go remote.

As a result, manufacturers are putting in protective measures to maintain a safe environment for the shop floor workers.

Here are some ways that companies are protecting the health of their workers while keeping those production lines humming.

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Staggering shift hours

The crush in and out of the factory during shift changes can put workers in close contact. As a result, manufacturers are staggering their production schedules to prevent unnecessary close contact.

One biotech firm we spoke to in Boston has staggered its production schedule so that the engineers from each team can rotate when they come into the office. BioTek Instruments Inc. in Vermont made similar changes, separating regular shifts into two in order to lower the density of people on the manufacturing floor.

Some companies are staggering schedules with the needs of their employees in mind.

At Jergens, a company that produces electric screwdrivers for the healthcare industry, workers that are ‘empty-nesters’ have been predominantly taking weekend shifts to make sure those with children have time to take care of the health of their families.

Disinfecting plants

Most manufacturing plants open during COVID-19 have gone from cleaning their plants every couple of days to several times a day.

In between their two shifts, BioTek Instruments has been doing 45-minute deep cleaning sessions to thoroughly disinfect their plant per CDC guidelines. Ben & Jerry’s Vermont factory has also increased its cleaning measures by implementing more extensive sanitizing protocols, as well as using hospital-grade cleaners to disinfect their production facilities.

Other manufacturers keep hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes next to HMIs and other public services to reduce surface contagions.

Hand-washing and taking temperatures

Many manufacturers are enforcing personal hygiene best practices as a way to hold workers accountable to one another.

Emerald, a plastic wrap and bags company for food, has enforced a strict hand-washing protocol: arrive at work, wash hands, punch in on the time clock, and wash hands. Anytime a surface is touched, the worker must disinfect thoroughly.

At Ben & Jerry’s production plant, everyone is tested for fever before they enter. They must also answer three questions, which are: “Do you have symptoms? Have you traveled overseas recently? And have you been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive?”

Keeping the 6-feet rule

Since the 6 feet rule can be a bit difficult to guesstimate, Jergens has also taped the floor of certain parts of the facility with 6-foot markers to follow the rules precisely. Several other plants have directed their workers to skip every other production station, and in some cases, physically move stations apart so that workers can keep the 6-feet rule.

Expanding sick leave

One of the best ways to protect workers is to implement policies that enable workers to protect themselves. To this end, some manufacturers have expanded their sick leave policies to ensure that workers with symptoms don’t feel compelled to come to work.

Emerald has added two weeks to its regular 40-hour paid time off policy to ensure that workers do not feel pressured to come in if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Similarly, Lincoln Electric has also allowed their employees to use paid time off if they are uncomfortable working, and have subsequently added pay premiums to those working physically on the shop floor.

Enabling remote work when possible

While many manufacturers have to work in the factory, it isn’t true for everyone. Many manufacturers have encouraged workers to find processes and tasks that can be performed remotely, and to do so.

These can include the remote monitoring of assets, remote guidance of maintenance operations, and remote collaboration on business issues and process design.

Each additional body out of the factory reduces density and helps minimize the chances of transmission.

Creating a safe working environment

These are just a few examples of how manufacturing companies are working around the clock to make sure the essentials are delivered in time to hospitals, grocery stores, and homes.

However, as different as the existing manufacturing processes and protocols are, protective measures against COVID-19 for workers will also look different for each plant.

When making official decisions regarding the health of your workers, please consult the official CDC’s guide to “Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019”.

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