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Keeping the shop floor lights on: Effective and safe options during COVID-19

Mar 23, 2020

Second of two parts
Part 1: 5 policies to keep employees safe

With COVID-19 coronavirus cases spreading throughout the U.S., manufacturers want to take precautions, protect employees and keep production running safely. But how do you ensure this in a complex environment like a shop floor? Shop floor safety is critical, which makes performing something akin to a COVID-19 shop floor audit helpful in mitigating risk.

Effective separation and cleaning are the two biggest procedures your shop floor can adopt to help get through this challenging time.

1. Effective separation

That new term, social distancing, we’re all hearing lately is critical for shop floor employees. They can’t work from home, so we recommend doing anything you can do to help create separation.  

Actions you can take include:

  • Staggering start times into waves so not everyone is clocking in at the same time
  • Adding shifts as needed to help space people out
  • Staggering breaks so groups of people aren’t congregating together
  • Moving breaks outside for fresh air and additional space
  • Avoiding job rotation
  • Holding meetings virtually
  • Put a portable toilet outside your dock so that you can keep your inside restrooms restricted to employees
  • Observe social distancing during deliveries

2. Effective cleaning

Cleaning must be done in conjunction with separation to be effective. Have you ever thought of how much gets touched in your manufacturing plant?

Equipment that should be thoroughly cleaned includes:

  • Dials, keyboards and mouses
  • Community equipment like forklifts and pallet jacks
  • Shared maintenance equipment like wrenches and drills
  • Personal equipment like gloves, helmets and eye-protection gear.

Then there’s everything else in the building. Door knobs, light switches, barcode scanners, the time clock, lunch room tables and even the backs of chairs. Everything should be cleaned throughout the day to help ensure there is no transmission. We recommend sticking adhesive dots on the “hot zones” of your plant so that employees can remember where these areas are and what needs to be cleaned.

This may hurt to read, but the best way to keep employees healthy and prevent transmission is to have a purposeful stop in production 3-4 times a day so that everything listed above can be cleaned, employees can wash their hands, and they can switch out any latex gloves they’re wearing.

Additional recommendations:

  • Keep as many doors open as you can so employees don’t have to touch them
  • Turn off vending machines and distribute snacks to employees (we recommend making the snacks free in order to help boost morale)
  • Quarantine inbound goods for a period of time until they’re safe to use
  • Increasing uniform cleaning

Have you thought about simple, relatively inexpensive automation?

If you’re already short on staff because you have employees in self-quarantine — or because you’ve always had trouble filling positions that involve a lot of repetitive work — consider investing in simple automation. 

Collaborative robots (cobots) can be put into use within a few days for those extremely repetitive tasks like unloading boxes from conveyor belts and placing onto pallets, machine tending, or packaging applications. Because they are mobile, you can have one work on a specific line one day and a different line another. They can be more cost-effective in the long-run, with the added benefit of filling positions that people just aren’t interested in.

Surprisingly, COVID-19 is highlighting a recruiting opportunity

Many manufacturers across the country have trouble filling positions at all levels. For decades now, high school counselors have pushed students into applying to four-year colleges while downplaying the benefits of manufacturing jobs.

But with COVID-19 closing restaurants, there are a lot of displaced food service workers who are a huge untapped resource. First, they are ready to work immediately, and you can attract them out of a part-time, minimum-wage industry into a full-time position with health insurance, vacation time and other benefits. 

Second, you can keep them after the pandemic is over and things begin to return to normal. Once they realize the benefits of manufacturing and the opportunities for growth, you have trained employees who aren’t going to want to leave and go back to food service. You will have recruited them into a new career and solved many of your recruiting challenges. 

Plus, your commitment to effective separation and cleaning during this time highlights that you care about your employees’ safety and wellbeing — and that can be a hugely effective retention tool.

Shop floor safety

Want to learn more about strategies that can help your manufacturing business cope during COVID-19? Click here to visit our resource center, which contains articles on everything from talent to cybersecurity to legislation news and analysis. If you’re looking to discover further recommendations for making your shop floor safer, or for help navigating the pandemic’s business challenges, contact Wipfli to learn more.

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Mark Stevens
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Brett Polglaze
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Joe Girard
Sr. Business Developer
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