Keeping employees safe and healthy has always been a focus for businesses. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a lot of employers that it’s time to step up their game and create a work environment that reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19. 

The manufacturing industry isn’t an industry that can “work from home.” A jet, automobile, electronic device, or level gauge cannot be built anywhere other than on location. So it’s important that manufacturers everywhere create procedures and policies that allow for social distancing and increased sanitization of spaces so employees feel comfortable and safe enough to work. 

For the hands-on and ever-present workforce, social distancing, staggering shifts, and heightened hygienic practices are the way of the future. While the many states in the US work diligently to bring back the manufacturing industry to it’s full operational capacity (and with it, 8% of the employment to those in the workforce), it’s imperative that businesses take employee safety with respect to COVID-19 very seriously. This includes social distancing, staggered shifts in an effort to increase workload while decreasing the number of employees in one space at a time, increased in hygienic policies and procedures are all quickly becoming the new normal.

How can manufacturers abide by social distancing guidelines within the workplace?

Manufacturing organizations have released some guidelines for manufacturers in order to abide by social distancing guidelines. 

It is recommended that employees wear face coverings unless there are extreme circumstances or safety concerns. Facemasks for everyone helps cut down on the spread and transmission of any germs and illness, including COVID-19. 

Another way that manufacturers can abide by social distancing guidelines is to separate employees by 6 feet or more. Train employees on what 6 feet of separation looks like and enforce it by marking off 6 foot increments in highly traveled spaces. This keeps employees apart and is another layer of safety for everyone. 

Mark off 6 foot sections between workers in places like assembly lines. Make sure that employees understand those markings and how they are designed to keep them safe. Installing  plexiglass dividers can also help in maintaining social distancing guidelines as well.

Manufacturers can close down common areas such as break rooms and any employee lounge areas to discourage congregating. While this may make it hard for some employees to find another place to eat, it discourages congregating of employees in a space that doesn’t allow for social distancing to be followed. If closing a lunch room isn’t a possibility, signs on chairs could show employees which chairs they could sit in and which they should avoid. With this comes a need for a team to be always available to clean and sanitize any surface that a person has come in contact with (including chairs in the lunchroom). 

In addition, staggering break times even more than before allows for less employees to come in contact with one another therefore reducing risk of possible exposure even further. If you have a normal break time for lunch, consider adding multiple before and after the traditional lunch hour so there are less people leaving and re-entering at the same time. A rotating schedule allows for people who may not like their earlier or later than normal lunch hour to be able to take advantage of all the different lunch hours. 

If social distancing of the recommended 6 feet isn’t possible, increasing an employees protective gear can keep employees safe and at a lower risk of catching COVID-19. Recommendations across many businesses and industries include wearing safety goggles at all times, more PPE-like gear (face shields and masks, if safe to do so), and donning masks and gloves for some tasks. 

Staggering shifts is an easy way to reduce the number of employees in the workplace at any time while still maintaining staff to keep up with production levels. 

Another way to maintain social distancing and work to keep your employees as safe as possible is staggering shifts and adding more shifts than you normally operate under.

A key to making staggered shift work is keeping employees that are on these weekly shifts on the same shifts so they continue to be exposed to the same people each day – it works to limit contact across teams and sub-teams. While this may seem counter intuitive, keeping the same people on these shifts and not rotating if at all possible means every day the same team of people are together. Knowing the same people will report to the same shifts every week can also help in the event of a COVID-19 exposure. Contract tracing is even easier this way. This is an extra measure that allows employees to only be subject to the same group of people and it also allows for easier contact tracing if and when an individual comes into work exposed. 

Staggering shifts also extends to people entering and exiting the facility. Staggering shifts, designated entrances and exits, and social distancing when waiting to enter common spaces are all ways to keep employees safe. 

Consider discontinuing unnecessary entry into your facility and suspend all unnecessary deliveries and drop offs for another layer of security for you and your staff. Suspending unnecessary deliveries means less random people exposing or being exposed to your employees. 

Heightened hygiene practices can help mitigate risk, too.

Cleanliness and proper sanitation in manufacturing spaces will be a hot topic from now on. Cleaning procedures will need to be revisited in all manufacturing spaces to ensure the products used and frequency of cleaning is consistent with best practices and guidelines set forth by state and federal health organizations.  A great place to view what the latest and most up-to-date information is by visiting cdc.gov and viewing what the CDC recommends for the manufacturing industry. 

Allowing for cleaning to be done as often as directed (even while on the clock) will make a safer environment for all people in and around it. Securing proper supply channels to have the right cleaning and sanitizing products is just as important as having the cleaning procedures in place. Cleaning wipes, disinfectant, cleaning procedures and proper disposal of waste are all part of a hygienic environment and should be readily available for use whenever necessary. 

Routine breaks for washing hands, requiring hand washing be done at the beginning and end of shifts, and hand sanitizer stations all across the facility can help encourage employees to keep washing their hands top of mind. Washing hands for 20 seconds with water and soap has been proven to be the key to keeping COVID-19 at bay. 

Don’t forget to have a plan. 

Having a plan for increased absenteeism due to COVID-19 means being prepared for anything. If you plan and prepare for changing staffing levels you’ll be able to adjust at a moment’s notice. This means knowing how many employees you need to maintain production levels, where you can “borrow” employees from, and what partners are available for you to use to quickly fill in when needed. 

Make sure your partner is a reputable partner in the staffing industry. Proven track records and years in business mean a staffing partner knows their stuff. GTR has been in business for 17 years and knows a thing or two about helping businesses. Contact us today to learn more about how we partner with businesses to Build A Workforce That Works.