Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays 2023!
21 December 2023
The question many manufacturing industry businesses are asking themselves at the moment, is “How can we prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in our factories?”. In this article we look at the official advice on COVID-19 prevention and look at how to apply it in a manufacturing setting.
Over recent weeks we have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 in the news in some localised areas and in some specific factories around the globe. Such an outbreak can be devastating for a business, not only necessitating a complete shutdown for a deep clean but the damage to employee and customer confidence and company reputation can be long lasting.
So, it is no surprise that many manufacturing companies are asking themselves; ”Have we implemented sufficient controls to prevent such an outbreak?”, “Have we done enough?
Establishing what needs to be done for COVID-19 prevention in manufacturing is largely a matter of using common sense and using the guidelines from Government and Industry bodies. There are no experts we can bring in who can just solve all this for us. If an expert exists he/she would need to be an epidemiologist, a hygiene expert, a behavioural specialist and have lots of experience in operating factories / premises.
As seasoned Managers who have travelled and worked across the world over 40 years we feel the need to share some thoughts and learnings at a time continually referred to as “unprecedented times”. This is an overused term and it is time it was retired. Let us use “New Normality”.
But do not be intimidated by the situation. Is it as new as we think?
COVID-19 poses a risk to individuals and to businesses? Yes. So what can businesses do and where can some external support help?
The UK Government COVID-19 guidance website lists 5 Steps to working safely. It comes as no surprise that Step 1 is “Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment”. However, have we not been carrying out Risk Assessments as a “norm”? Have you not been training your teams in your locations to carry out Risk Assessments?
Let us move from the “What” to the “How”. In carrying out the risk assessment there are some basic rules to consider:
(The authors of this article successfully used this technique as a routine management tool over many years.)
It is no surprise that Step 2 is “Develop cleaning, hand-washing and hygiene procedures”.
In the Food & Beverage industries ‘food safety and hygiene’ regulations are in place to protect the consumers. ‘Health & safety at work’ regulations are in place to protect the workers. COVID-19 prevention for manufacturing brings in the requirement to revisit the audits and procedures with extra requirements and extra caution focusing on items. Keep in mind that use of indoor clothing and outdoor clothing with separate changing rooms has been standard in many situations. We have had deep cleaning of machinery, rooms, corridors as normal procedures in many industries. Hand washing / sanitising stations with foot operated devices are not new. Automatic Taps and sanitiser dispensers are not new.
Step 3 is about helping people work from home.
Many people prefer this and are very happy about the new normality. However are employers comfortable with this? Do they feel they have enough control? Certainly managers should revisit if the measures they have in place, KPIs, targets etc to evaluate performance and deliverables are sufficient or might need updating to reflect the WFH situation.
Furthermore with most meetings being remote via Teams, Skype, Zoom etc. it may be appropriate to put in a place a formal meeting and reporting structure and specific meeting convention formats to improve efficiency.
Step 4 is to maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible in the workplace. This in some manufacturing cases is extremely difficult to achieve, but a fresh look at the factory layout along with a Lean expert review of processes could bring some good ideas here to help.
Step 5 is about when 2m social distancing cannot be guaranteed then take other measures to manage transmission risk.
Take for example the company’s canteen or break-room. Maybe the tables and chairs are 2m apart but what about the risk of items that people touch in that area? Some companies ask their employees to bring in their own crockery and cutlery, others have sanitising systems. For some businesses which elected to keep such communal areas as closed, they may need to reconsider that the this is no longer a temporary measure and in the new normality they need to reopen these areas in the near future.
Consider also shared equipment and tools. Have you done a risk assessment on which tools and equipment is shared, by whom, and considered the interval time between shred use. Obviously the longer the interval time the less chance the virus will have of surviving on that surface.
Whilst there is no step 6 in the UK Government guidelines, behaviour and compliance is probably the most important but most difficult thing to maintain and most likely complacency is the cause of the mini outbreaks we see in the news nearly every day.
It is understandable that people either momentarily forget the rules or simply are fed up with following the procedures. Also everyone has a different perception of risk. Call it the risk thermometer if you like.
The challenge is how to get the message across, build engagement and keep it current? Think of the face coverings discussion. Initially lots of doubts about the effectiveness of masks and face coverings, then a worry about availability of supply, then a mini protest by some people in society who refused to wear them. However now we see in general good compliance to the wearing of masks when we are in public places. Let’s hope it will continue.
The businesses that are most successful in behaviour and compliance have regular engagement with their employees and also get the message reinforced not only by their own management but from other sites, clients, suppliers and other external sources.
Failure to follow rules and procedures is nothing new, it’s an everyday management issue. What has changed is that the failure to follow the correct procedures now have different consequences. As mentioned at the outset of this article, COVID-19 prevention for manufacturing is crucial to avoid the potentially devastating effects for businesses, so ensuring compliance is more crucial than ever.
Richard Wall and Alpay Cholak are independent Consultants, each with more than 35 years experience in the Fine Chemicals and the Food & Beverage Industries. We support IntES International Engineering Services in bringing solutions to businesses via management consultancy, operational management, project management or engineering and design.
We hope this article brings some food for thought for businesses in adapting to the new normality. If you feel some support from our experience can help your business, whether it be in risk assessment, factory layout, developing remote workers performance accountability measures, reporting and meeting protocols and structures or just reinforcing the behavioural and compliance message then feel free to contact us.