Not long after the first of the year in 2020, life in California and across the United States changed dramatically for people on many levels as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These alterations in the way we all live our lives include the manner in which manufacturing companies conduct their business. The operation of manufacturers remains a complicated endeavor at this juncture of the coronavirus pandemic. With this in mind, there are some facts and factors associated with ramping up manufacturing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Manufacturing Hazard Control During the Pandemic

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established what the agency calls a “hierarchy of hazard controls” that apply to manufacturers as they strive to ramp up during the COVID-19 pandemic. The OSHA hierarchy of hazard control is comprised of three levels:

  • Engineering controls
  • Administrative and work practice controls
  • Personal protective equipment or PPE

Engineering Controls and Manufacturing Ramping Up

There are a number of key engineering controls that need to be borne in mind when a manufacturing enterprise ramps up as business reopens during the COVID-19 pandemic. First and foremost is the need to reconfigure a manufacturing plant to attempt to satisfy the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OSHA as they pertain to the physical distancing of workers. 

The CDC recommends that workers in a manufacturing setting maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from their peers (indeed, the agency recommends everyone follow this guideline). More recently, the CDC has hedged this directive, at least to some degree. By this it is meant that the CDC has begun to advise that a six feet distance between workers may not be ideal. Rather, the agency is now indicating that oftentimes a larger distance of upwards to 10 feet between workers may be in the best interest.

Because reconfiguring a manufacturing plant to ensure a consistent physical distance between workers of between six and 10 feet may prove impossible, engineering controls need to include the addition of barriers between workers. For example, in a manufacturing plant, the addition of something like plexiglass barriers between workers may be needed. 

When it comes to reconfiguring a manufacturing setup as a part of overall engineering controls as businesses reopen during the pandemic, attention must also be paid to a new type of necessary safety and health station. Throughout a plant, sanitization stations should be placed throughout a facility. This makes it as easy as possible for workers to engage in proper hygiene, including hand sanitizing.

Manufacturers also need to implement protocols for COVID-19 cleaning and sanitization. This includes specific tactics associated with preemptive deep cleaning as a means of preventing coronavirus contamination in a plant in the first instance. The reality is that it is cheaper to have regular professional coronavirus cleaning and disinfection to prevent contamination in the first instance than it is to close down a facility if verified, extensive COVID-19 contamination occurs at a manufacturing plant.

Ultimately, manufacturing will need to give consideration to reconsider the production process itself. For example, the actual production line may need to be retooled or restructured as part of overall engineering controls and facility alterations during the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Administrative and Work Practice Controls During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Manufacturing owners and managers need to implement a series of work practice controls as part of a safe ramping up process as businesses reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Examples of work practice controls that need to be considered include:

  • Adjusting shifts to accommodate an appropriate number of workers in a plant at the same time. In some jurisdictions, there remain directives on the total number of people who may be in a workplace at the same time. Social distancing also plays a role in the number of individuals who can be at work in a manufacturing plant at the same time. A key way in which the number of workers on-site can be controlled is through shift and schedule adjustment to ensure an optimally safe number of employees present at any given point in time.
  • Plant management must also create, coordinate, and implement worker training on issues associated with COVID-19 in the workplace. OSHA provides an array of resources that manufacturers can take advantage of when it comes to creating and implementing a suitable worker training program associated with COVID-19. 
  • A manufacturer needs to take the initiative to ensure that workers have all necessary personal protective equipment to safely and properly perform their jobs. Personal protective equipment is discussed in more detail in a moment. Workers should not be left footing the costs associated with work-related personal protective equipment at a manufacturing plant.

Personal Protective Equipment and Safe Manufacturing Operations During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As mentioned a moment ago, addressing personal protective equipment needs for employees at a manufacturing plant is a crucial element of ramping up during the COVID-19 pandemic. OSHA is a prime resource for information about appropriate personal protective equipment in a particular industry. In addition, the state of California offers industry guidance on COVID-19 practices and procedures. 

The bottom line is that when it comes to selecting suitable personal protective equipment, a manufacturing business must not guess on what is and is not needed. The resources provided by both OSHA and the state of California can walk a manufacturer (as well as businesses in other industries) step by step through what is needed in the way of personal protective equipment.

Social Distancing in a Manufacturing Plant

A final thought is to underscore the importance of social distancing or physical distancing in a manufacturing plant. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of physical distancing has been a consistent mantra. Absent an effective vaccine, the best way to avoid the coronavirus in the first place is to keep an effective distance from others.