As manufacturing plants and similar types of enterprises reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as these types of enterprises move towards expanding their operations after stay at home periods, certain hazard management principles and practices need to be considered. The U.S. Office of Safety and Health Administration has developed a set of considerations and recommendations for manufacturing and similar types of businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three Layers of Hazard Control for a Manufacturing Business During the COVID-19 Pandemic

When it comes to hazard control for a manufacturer or similar business during the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has developed three lines of defense to keep workers as safe as possible during the pandemic. Each of these lines of defense are presented in some detail in a moment.

According to OSHA, the most powerful line of defense is found through implementing appropriate engineering controls. The second line of defense is changing the way in which people work during the pandemic through administrative and workplace practice controls. The third line of defense is to protect workers with appropriate personal protective equipment. 

Engineering Controls

A primary element of hazard control for a manufacturing business during the COVID-19 pandemic is reconsidering and reconfiguring engineering controls. In a manufacturing setting, there is an array of different alterations or additions a manufacturer must consider to make the premises safer during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Reconfiguring the plant floor: On the top of the list of engineering controls to enhance the safety of a manufacturing plant for workers and others is the reconfiguration of the plant floor. The primary objective of manufacturing plant floor reconfiguration is allowing for proper physical distancing between workers. The OSHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for a minimum of six feet between individual workers.
  • Close off or regulate spaces where people congregate for nonessential reasons: Manufacturing plants oftentimes have spaces where workers congregate for nonessential purposes. These spaces need to be tightly regulated or shut down altogether. For example, a break room can be reconfigured (perhaps including the addition of partitions, as discussed in a moment). In addition, there can be a hard limit on the number of people permitted in a break room at the same time.
  • Liberal use of partitions: Partitions can be very useful in enhancing the safety of workers on the plant floor itself. Partitions can be liberally placed in a manufacturing plant to provide a layer of vital protection between workers when maintaining minimal physical distancing. 
  • Install safety and sanitization stations: A manufacturing business needs to be strategic (and liberal) in the installation of safety and sanitization stations throughout a facility. 
  • Broaden use of supportive technology: When it comes to engineering controls, manufacturing companies should make broad use of supportive technology. For example, in a manufacturing setting, workers tend to cluster too closely around time clocks. As an alternative, there are apps available that workers can use to clock in and out of shifts without unnecessary close contact with their fellow workers. 

Administrative and Work Practice Controls

In addition to engineering controls to mitigate potential hazards during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are actions that can be taken (must be taken) in regard to administrative and work practice controls as well. These include:

Lower the number of workers in a shift. On the list of administrative and work practice controls is lowering the number of workers in a shift. In some states and local communities there exist specific limitations on the number of people who can be in a workplace. Even in the absence of such a governmental directive, manufacturers are wise to keep worker numbers lower on each shift to enhance safety. 

Shorten the length of shifts and add additional shifts: Manufacturers historically allow employees to work long shifts or even double shifts. During the pandemic, manufacturers need to focus on shortening the length of shifts to ending the practice of allowing double shifts for the time being. 

Create specific worker cohorts: When it comes to administrative and work practice controls, manufacturers should create what can be called specific worker cohorts. In other words, each individual shift should be staffed by a specifically defined cohort of workers. Manufacturing plant workers should always work with the same group of fellow workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worker screening at the facility: Liberal screening of workers needs to occur at a manufacturing plant. This includes screening when entering the facility at the start of a shift.

Worker self-screening: Finally, workers need to diligently self-screen. If a worker exhibits any of the more commonplace signs of COVID-19, that individual needs to stay at home. 

Personal Protective Equipment

A manufacturing business must be certain to implement appropriate strategies and directives in regard to personal protective equipment. The matter of personal protective equipment has two primary objectives for a manufacturing business.

First, a manufacturing business needs to make certain that all employees understand precisely what PPE must be worn on site. PPE for workers in a manufacturing plant ideally include:

  • Mask
  • Uniform (that can be changed into and out of before and at the end of a shift)
  • Gloves 
  • Protective eyewear (ideally a face shield)

The mask is on the “must wear” list while the others are highly recommended in a manufacturing setting even if this is not traditional PPE in a particular production setting. 

Second, in order to ensure that workers have proper PPE and are not financially overburdened by having to buy this equipment, manufacturers should pay for personal protective equipment for their workers. 

OSHA COVID-19 Resources for Manufacturing Plants and Other Businesses 

OSHA maintains comprehensive resources for manufacturing and all other types of businesses to assist in enhancing overall safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include resources designed to make a manufacturing facility or a similar type of business as safe as possible during the pandemic. OSHA also provides up to date information about the latest developments associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, workers, and workplaces.