Back to Operations: Manufacturing Safety During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As more businesses are given permission to reopen, many manufacturing facilities are returning to normal operations. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the way that workers must be protected has changed and manufacturing must now incorporate new health and safety policies. While these policies will be implemented differently in each facility, all manufacturers can protect their workforce by proactively enacting social distancing policies, promoting a culture of healthy hygiene, and prioritizing cleanliness.

Social Distancing for Manufacturing Facilities

Based off what public health officials know about the spread of COVID-19, keeping a healthy distance from others is one of the most effective ways to reduce transmission of the virus. In busy manufacturing plants where workers have close contact with coworkers and supervisors, the workplace should be evaluated for what controls can be implemented to enforce social distancing.

Coronavirus Safety Sign in FacilityMaintain appropriate distances among workers by making changes to how your facility runs. Eliminate all non-essential meetings to keep contact at a minimum and limit facility access only to essential workers. One manufacturing plant in California has actually started to hold their meetings outside so employees can keep a 6-foot distance around themselves. Think about the spots in your facility where social distancing may be difficult, like break rooms and time clocks. For example, you could add additional clock in/out stations spaced apart, stagger times for employees to punch in and out, or provide a touch-free alternative.

The plant floor and production lines can be a particularly tricky place to maintain a healthy distance. If possible, modify the layout of workstations so workers are at least 6 feet apart in all directions (side-to-side and face-to-face). If that’s not a feasible option, consider installing plexiglass barriers to keep separation between workers. Use floor markings and safety signs to remind workers to stay at their station during their shift and to maintain a healthy distance while on breaks. Mark pathways throughout the facility to encourage single-file movement with a 6-foot distance between each other to safely guide workers to break rooms, restrooms, and timeclock stations.

Keeping a Clean Plant

Keeping a clean facility is more important than ever right now as exposure to the infectious virus from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects like tools, workstations, or break room tables. Each workstation should be cleaned and disinfected, and a schedule established to ensure surfaces are regularly wiped down between shifts. The CDC also recommends removing personal cooling fans to reduce the potential spread of airborne viruses.

For manufacturing facilities with tool intensive operations, now is a great time to create an organization system. Make sure all tools being used are visible and workers are frequently cleaning and disinfecting tools, including whenever a worker changes workstations or uses a new set of tools. One way to do this is with a shadow board tool system. Using customizable tool foam or tool vinyl, create outlines for tools so it’s easy to see what tools are being used. This can help people get in the habit of cleaning a tool before putting it back.Safety First Sin Clean Tools Before and After Use

It’s also important to have a sanitization protocol for common areas and breakrooms. If possible, try wipe down frequently touched surfaces like microwave handles, refrigerator doors, vending machine touchpads, sink handles, etc. at least once per shift. Before opening your facility up, now would be an opportune time to 5S the place. This will get the workplace to a base level clean that you can maintain. Standardize cleaning procedures by making sure each employee understands their responsibilities and it’s a part of everyone’s daily routine.

Encouraging Healthy Hygiene

Does your workplace promote healthy practices? Encourage hand hygiene by placing handwashing stations or hand sanitizers (at least 60% alcohol) in multiple spots around the facility. The CDC recommends adding additional short breaks to ensure workers have the time to thoroughly wash their hands and adding signs at stations reminding everyone to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.  Post signs in common areas to remind workers to cover their cough and avoid touching their eyes, noses, and mouths.

Because different states have different requirements for going back to work, social distancing protocols, cleaning, and facemask requirements will be implemented in different ways. To determine which orders apply to your business, it is best to contact local and state authorities. In addition to screening and monitoring workers, creating a plan for managing sick workers, and providing personal protective equipment (PPE), manufacturing facilities can make simple changes to protect their workers and the community as a whole during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Other helpful sources:

Interim Guidance for Workers and Employers of Workers at Increased Risk of Occupational Exposure.

Key OSHA Standards for COVID-19

Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

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