Manufacturing enterprises need to maintain a sharp focus on keeping their workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the heart of keeping manufacturing workers safe during the health crisis is the implementation of a multifaceted strategy:
- Reconfiguration of the physical plant
- Worker directives
- Personal protective equipment
Although this article focusses on personal protective equipment or PPE, a consideration of PPE cannot be made in isolation. A thoughtful PPE analysis necessarily involves a consideration of the physical nature of a manufacturing plant as well as worker directives that are maintained at a particular facility. Before diving into a closer examination of PPE, we turn to the reconfiguration of the physical manufacturing plant together with a consideration of necessary and appropriate worker directives associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reconfiguration of the Physical Plant
Each manufacturing plant has its own unique set of needs and objectives when it comes to worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a consequence, physical plant reconfiguration must be undertaken to meet these particular requirements and goals. With that said, there are some general manufacturing plant reconfigurations that apply to nearly any facility of this type.
At the heart of the reconfiguration of a manufacturing facility is furthering physical separation or social distancing as much as possible. The reality is that meeting physical separation or social distancing minimums in a manufacturing plant can prove to be a challenge and even practically impossible in some cases. Where social distancing standards cannot be met, plant reconfiguration and PPE come into sharp focus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention together with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration have established physical distancing recommendations for a broad range of businesses, including manufacturers. Similarly, the state of California has established protocols for various types of businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, including manufacturing plants.
Generally speaking, these authoritative agencies have established a bottom line of separation of six feet between workers whenever possible. Again, when this minimum cannot be met, the focus shifts to enhancing worker safety via physical plant reconfiguration and personal protective equipment.
The first step a manufacturing plant needs to take in regard to reconfiguration is attempting to redesign the production line and associated processes in a manner that can enhance distancing between workers. Odds are this tactic alone will not be sufficient to keep workers appropriately physically separated. Thus, a manufacturing plant must then turn to placing physical barrier to enhance the safety of workers on the line or on the floor.
Many manufacturing plants are finding success in using plexiglass dividers to provide separation between workers. These types of dividers prove flexible, durable, effective, and affordable.
Another reconfiguration that is suitable for any manufacturing plant is the installation of sanitization stations throughout the facility. Not only should these stations be located at entrances and exits but also at other key locations throughout a plant.
A variety of worker directives should also be associated with the use of PPE. These directives include the requirement that proper PPE will be worn at all times in a manufacturing plant. Ideally, an employer pays for and provides appropriate PPE for its workers.
Worker directives should also include responsible self-screening. Self-screening involves such issues as whether or not a worker has any symptoms of COVID-19 and whether a worker has had contact with anyone diagnosed with the virus.
Personal Protective Equipment
One of the bigger challenges of a manufacturing company during the COVID-19 pandemic is striving to obtain appropriate PPE for workers. In simple terms, a manufacturing business most definitely doesn’t want to under protect its workers. On the other hand, a manufacturer doesn’t want to go overboard and overdo when it comes to PPE for workers.
Ensuring that workers in a manufacturing setting have proper PPE is a process of building on the personal protective equipment that may already have been needed in a particular plant setting. In this regard, one of the primary PPE focuses during the pandemic in on facemasks.
In addition, a manufacturer should adopt a policy of workers wearing uniforms while on the plant floor, if that was not already a work requirement. Workers should change into a fresh uniform at the start of a shift and change out of it at the end of the workday. This process protects against the possibility of bringing the coronavirus into a plant or taking it out of a facility.
Certainly, a manufacturer should spend time researching what is available in the way of PPE from one provider to another. With that said, companies that manufacture PPE have developed digital tools to aid in identifying what PPE is recommended for a particular business, including a manufacturing company. An example of such a tool is SafeSPEC from DuPont.
There is a broad spectrum of resources available to a manufacturer when it comes to sources for personal protective equipment. In addition, OSHA provides resources to assist a manufacturing company in identifying the most appropriate PPE to meet its specific needs.