Getting Back to Work Safely – Post Covid-19 and Pre-Vaccine
Published by : Industrial Automation
Janice Abel lists out some steps to help workers feel safe in an on-premise collaborative manufacturing and office work environment.
It will be important for businesses to ensure the safety and health of their employees while continuing to maintain business continuity as people transition back to work on-site Post Covid- 19, especially as governments and companies encourage a transition to the new normal. Employees should be preparing their back to work roadmaps and transition back to operations, manufacturing plants and offices in phases that are managed. For collaborative open offices, the concept may have to be revisited and reconfigured, not just because they are prone to interruptions and too noisy, but because they may spread viruses amongst employees easier when it is difficult to social distance. For some offices and production facilities, PPEs and the ability to setup barriers and social distancing may help reduce risk and possibly liability.
PPE in manufacturing post Covid-19
For getting back to work without a vaccine or a cure, it is important that employers allow workers the ability to continue to social distance and add testing if possible. Regular testing of workers could keep exposure to sick employees to a minimum and boost workers’ confidence about going back to work. Testing of employees for Covid-19 is important. Testing employees for Covid-19 antibodies might also be beneficial, because these employees may not need any restrictions or PPE. One problem might be the availability of obtaining Covid-19 tests in large quantities, and then some workers may not want to be tested for various reasons, including privacy. However, testing would help ensure that workers are safe and speed up the return to work transition.
There must be enough tests for health care workers and people who are sick first before testing is initiated. According to the Wall Street Journal, a survey by Employer Health Innovation Roundtable, indicated that about 40 per cent of companies are considering some type of testing at worksites as they plan to reopen.
Employees should return in managed groups or phases. Security, safety, some executives and critical operations personnel, for example might be the first to return to help set up provisions for returning on-premise workers. It may be important to work with minimal on-site staff longer. One company that was more digitised prior to Covid-19 that ARC spoke to, found that having employees work remotely actually increased production 4 per cent, and that they Post Covid-19 may continue to have their employees work remotely. All companies should follow government guidelines and directives, but it might be necessary to be more stringent than some of these directives. For example, during Covid-19, when Sony cancelled a corporate event in Boston that was scheduled for the last weekend in February, the mayor of Boston called the executives and asked them not to cancel from the event, because he thought it was low risk at the time in Boston. Instead, Sony did what turned out to be the right directive by cancelling the meeting, because they wanted to keep their employees safe. Unknown to anyone, was that Biogen, a biotech company, had an internal executive meeting earlier in the same week at a hotel in Boston that ended up infecting more than 100 people.
Workers need to feel safe and valued
The 35 steps should be considered in place to get people back to work until there is a: 1. Vaccine that works and/or 2. A drug that cures people even in high risk groups.
35 Steps for employers to consider for the new normal While not everything on our list is possible, some steps that employers should consider implementing will help employees to feel safe and valued. Some of these potential provisions might include:
1. Manage employees on-site with a staged or phased return with restricted numbers.
2. Initially social distancing should continue by minimising on-site employees – employees should be socially separated up to 10 feet, but six feet at a minimum. There are new apps that have been developed and this might be a way.
3. Employees (and patrons) should have temperature checks daily, and ideally have a rapid Covid-19 test once a day, or at a minimum once a week. Provisions for isolation should be in place if a worker tests positive.
4. Employers should give most employees N95 masks, gloves, face shields and clothing that prevents virus (not these homemade masks that people don’t wash).
5. Touchless hand sanitizers should be readily available beside all doors and kitchens. Allow employees to shower and change clothes and give them disinfectant wipes and sanitizing detergent to sanitize clothes, since it can last for two days on clothing (in lieu of protective clothing).
6. All meetings should be virtual – even on-site Post Covid-19
7. On-site visitors should be minimised.
8. High risk employees should continue to work remotely if possible until there is a vaccine. Due to medical privacy, employers will have to ask employees to self-identify their risk level.
9. All shared technology items, including iPhone, iPad, and keyboards, should be sanitized.
10. Some production plants should add moveable plexiglass to space people in production and waiting rooms and during procedures. For open offices and production facilities without doors – plastic barriers need to be set up with N95 vents/filters in each barrier; all office ventilation system and public places should be upgraded to smart technology systems to provide better environmental conditions and prevent any petri dishes for viruses.
11. Offices should have floor to ceiling protection with microbial (N95) filters to the outside to increase venting to the outside air that prevents viral spread.
12. Reconfigure office spaces with physical barriers and make hallways one way to enable better distancing.
13. Add/replace most surfaces with anti-microbial surfaces instead of existing surfaces especially in kitchen and bathrooms and other shared spaces as a precaution.
14. Shared bathrooms need to be redesigned so people can be separated with separate doors with filtration and high efficiency filters. Add touch-less faucets and auto doors, including voice activated automation if possible.
15. Shared kitchens should add policies to allow only one person at a time – including policies to wipe down everything with touchless sanitizers; e.g., coffee handles, refrigerator, sink handles, etc. Additionally these surfaces should be sanitized professionally at least twice a day.
16. Employees should be asked to bring all food in with them and store them in paper bags. Elevator buttons and door handles should be wiped down many times a day or companies can keep hand sanitizer in the elevator for employees to use. Maintain a clear distance in elevators or limit number of people on elevators at once to allow social distancing. Elevator floors may be marked to enable social distancing.
17. No sharing of personal items that cannot be thoroughly cleaned between employees. If you cannot clean keyboards and/or touch pads adequately, you need to supply gloves to employees and wipe down between employees.
18. Employees should be asked to travel only if it is critical and not go on cruise ships (even for vacations). Travel to high risk areas should be discouraged.
19. Employees should be asked to minimise restaurant, grocery store visits, etc., and anywhere it is difficult to social distance. They should be asked to minimise exposure by minimising attendance at sporting events, theatres, etc.
20. For planes and airline industries or anyone who must travel for work – passengers need to be spaced 6 feet apart with barriers between seating; filtering air to prevent virus circulation needs to be added or all air should be vented if possible. Ideally testing every employee before boarding would be beneficial.
21. Public transportation should not be used by any employees unless they start testing passengers before boarding and/or you can be seated so that everyone is 6 feet apart and wearing masks; and add new air circulation ventilation with either plexiglass or plastic barriers between seats – with new policies for no standing in groups; riders should pay online and ensure that there is social distancing as people enter and leave trains. Companies may ask employers to drive to work instead of taking trains or subways until there is a vaccine because of the risk. Companies could offer free provide parking or incentives to drive to help with the costs.
22. Employers who have reserved or paid parking need to enable on-line payments or electronic payments beforehand.
23. If possible, employers should provide isolation facilities or a place to stay for two weeks for employees – if the employee gets sick and needs to be able to quarantine at a location other than their home, so that they don’t infect or risk their family’s health.
24. The government should help enforce these rules with fines, etc. And employers should pay attention if only for liability reasons alone.
25. Employers should fine people for not keeping six feet apart and not wearing masks.
26. Employees should only visit restaurants that deploy social distancing, install plexiglass and give PPE to employees, or test patrons before entering facilities.
27. Employers should plan for minimal employees on staff to enable better social distancing.
28. Use and add robotics where possible to replace risky human tasks that require up close work.
29. Deploy more technologies that enable remote workers (e.g., digital dashboards, cloud infrastructure and data, cybersecurity, production intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, flexible manufacturing and supply chain technologies, etc), and fix any remote infrastructure issues now.
30. Start to re-invest in remote infrastructure to enable remote workers as soon as possible to help deal with potential future outbreaks.
31. If you have not already done so, begin planning your digital transformation road map and start your transformation as soon as possible.
32. Smart applications and physical vehicles might be deployed where applicable to help enforce social distancing and tracking employee movements (with permission from employees).
33. Continue to update training skills using on-line and simulator training, especially in regulated industries.
34. Continue to offer employees help with medical monitoring.
35. Continue to follow government mandates and directives.
Although not all of these provisions may be possible, employers want their employees to feel safe and also help reduce their risks from a potential Covid-19 breakout in their on-premise work environment. While it is still important to continue business continuity and manage cash, companies must also manage safety and risk. The steps are listed to help workers feel safe in an on-premise collaborative manufacturing and office work environment. Some of these provisions may also help reduce liability issues in the future, in addition to helping reduce any potential future Covid outbreaks. Throughout the pandemic ARC has written numerous reports, webcasts and blogs about the Covid-19 impact on industrial markets.
Janice Abel, Principal Consultant, ARC Advisory Group, USA is lead analyst in the areas of enterprise manufacturing intelligence, manufacturing execution systems, operational analytics, batch management software, and operator training simulators. She has been doing research and consulting for the chemical, oil & gas, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical, consumer products, medical devices, and other industries throughout most of her professional career.