The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an incredibly heavy toll on the US manufacturing sector. Supply chain disruptions, a drop in demand for high-value goods (such as industrial machinery and automobiles), and closures of plants due to outbreaks have created a perfect storm that is predicted to drop the sector’s overall revenue by 18% in 2020 alone.
The manufacturing sector, which was already in decline before the crisis, is especially vulnerable given that the bulk of its workforce is employed in on-site jobs that cannot be done remotely. It can be a real challenge to create and enforce social distancing protocols in typically crowded work environments such as manufacturing plants, warehouses, and other logistics settings.
Meat and poultry processing facilities, according to the CDC, have been especially hard hit, reporting more than 17,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 100 deaths just during April and May. But the impacts have been felt in both discrete manufacturing (automobile, machinery, electrical and electronics, metal, aviation, etc.) and process manufacturing (food & beverage, chemicals, pharmaceutical and medical equipment, paint and coatings, and personal care & cosmetics, and more).
According to Manufacturing Tomorrow, “all the major sectors of the manufacturing industry are suffering in the time of COVID-19. However, with challenge comes opportunity. Once the dust settles, manufacturers will find it imperative to innovate and change with time to remain relevant.”
Some of those changes will involve shoring up their supply chains for resiliency, revisiting sourcing strategies, lining up alternate suppliers located within the US, as well as finding ways to automate more processes. But the more immediate and imperative concern is finding ways to protect their workers’ health and safety.
Ways to Protect Manufacturing Workers
The CDC released some key strategies for manufacturing facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees, including practices like social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, screening employees for symptoms before entering the workplace, education and training, proper PPE use and more.
While some facilities have encouraged workers to self-report if they are feeling symptoms, protective policies must be put in place to ensure workers who do so do not lose their jobs or suffer any reprisals for calling-in sick. Even with those policies, employees may be reluctant to self-report, which is why it’s essential facilities perform additional screenings, as well.
Accurate temperature screenings at entrance points are an imperative first line of defense. According to a recent CDC study on COVID patients, nearly all symptomatic patients (96%) reported one or more of the most common symptoms – fever, cough, or shortness of breath. Clearly, preventing workers with a fever from entering the workplace can reduce the risk of an outbreak. However, manual temperature screenings pose an increased risk for the workers who take the temperatures, can cause back-ups at points of entry, which increases risks for those in line, and may not be as accurate as automated methods.
Manufacturing facilities should consider purchasing automated health screening kiosks, such as the DeCurtis Shield™, which can perform an accurate temperature screening in one second and capture employee data to document who was screened, when and where. That kind of data can be invaluable should a facility face any litigation due to an outbreak.
COVID-19 Prevention Checklist for Manufacturing Facilities
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) also recommended some additional safety measures that manufacturing facilities should implement to mitigate risk, including:
- Prohibit all non-essential visitors to the factory; rigorously screen essential visitors and limit their movement in the facility.
- Repeatedly train employees on self-responsibility behaviors (like social distancing and hand washing).
- Eliminate large group meetings and meetings that are not essential.
- Replicate essential meetings multiple times to have smaller groups attend, and physically space people out in meeting rooms.
- Stagger shift start/stop times, break times and lunchtimes to minimize employees gathering in large numbers.
- Identify zones within the factory and prohibit employees from entering zones where they do not need to be to perform their jobs.
- Create schedules, procedures, and take any other steps to isolate key personnel from each other and from the rest of the workforce to minimize exposure.
- Increase cross-training, if that can be done with proper distancing, to prepare for higher numbers of unexpected absences.
- Increase frequency and depth of sanitizing efforts, and let employees observe it happen as to reinforce sanitizing behaviors and engender confidence in the safety of the workplace.
By implementing automated health screening kiosks and following recommendations from the CDC and AEM, the manufacturing sector should be able to overcome the challenges caused by the pandemic by making their facilities safer, more efficient and more resilient for years to come.