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Arkansas Manufacturing Solutions, a program of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is hosting a webinar on Wednesday to help small and mid-sized manufacturers mitigate risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will include details about an AMS-funded program that provides Arkansas manufacturers with no-cost initial assessments of their COVID-19 risks.
NSF International of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of three organizations approved to offer those assessments, and Paul Medeiros, its managing director of consulting and technical services, will be leading the webinar, and he spoke to Arkansas Business by email last week.
Who in a manufacturing operation should be responsible for preventing the spread of COVID-19 to employees, customers, vendors and anyone else the manufacturer does business with?
Many organizations are appointing a COVID compliance officer to lead the risk mitigation efforts, and NSF is in the process of developing a free training program for these compliance officers. Additionally, manufacturing operations should establish a crisis management team to monitor the situation and implement new measures in response to new challenges that are encountered.
This team will need to develop protocols and strategies, conduct and document on-site pandemic risk assessments and validate the measures in place, and identify gaps to help the organization navigate through the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This team may include members of the leadership team, the health and safety office, human resources, facility management and communication.
The importance of employee engagement cannot be understated in preventing the spread of COVID-19. An engaged workforce is not only more likely to follow the related protocols but is also more likely to offer feedback on how to make those protocols more effective and efficient. Involving the workforce in establishment of protocols and implementing two-way communication and feedback systems is crucial.
What can factories do to mitigate the spread on their floors?
An initial assessment of the workplace is the first step in ensuring you have the appropriate COVID-19 controls in place. There’s no shortage of guidance from public health authorities. People are swimming in guidance, but they need help operationalizing the guidance and applying it to their own unique workplaces. In general, companies should focus on reducing the 3 Cs:
Closed spaces with poor ventilation;
Crowded places with many people; and
Close-contact settings for extended periods.
Close-range conversations in a loud workplace like a manufacturing setting can be a significant risk factor because it forces people to talk louder, which results in the spread of respiratory droplets. Failures in these areas are what contribute the most to COVID-19 outbreaks.
And training is essential. Manufacturers need to make sure all employees are properly trained on new COVID protocols. And we need to make sure people don’t become complacent as community spread is reduced. If you let your guard down, spikes can easily reoccur.
Beyond training, it’s important to put in place as many error-proofing strategies as possible. Even the best trained employee will develop pandemic fatigue or just plain forget. Error-proofing strategies such as replacing manual punch-in-clocks with hands-free technology means you don’t need to rely on the human factor as much to control infection.
Why should preventing the spread be a priority for these businesses?
Preventing the spread is a priority for any business to ensure employees remain at work and the business remains operational. This is particularly true for small or midsize companies. Many businesses with known outbreaks have been forced to shut down and suffer the financial impact associated with it.
What impact is increasing safety protocols to combat COVID-19 having on manufacturers? How substantial has that investment been for them?
A positive COVID-19 program will help ensure positive employee engagement and culture. It allows for the business to showcase how it cares about its employees’ safety and the safety of vendors and customers alike. As stated earlier, companies should involve employees up front with establishing the protocols. It’s also important to obtain regular feedback through daily huddles (with appropriate social distancing), pre-shift meetings or other means.
Investments associated with these programs will differ based on each manufacturer or facility. Some manufacturers may already have had certain aspects implemented and did not require a large investment. Some may simply focus on the minimum requirements or best practices, while others may invest and go above and beyond by introducing new technology, new chemicals, new building additions and more. There are several ways to approach these protocols and precautions based on your specific needs.
We have seen COVID-19 control costs tend to run higher when companies first reopen. This is understandable. The companies with greater diligence, however, are able to understand how and where their costs have risen and have been able to find efficiencies over time without sacrificing safety.
How do the challenges of operating in a pandemic differ for small to mid-size manufacturers compared to large manufacturers? Or do they?
Small and midsize manufacturers can face unique challenges when it comes to protecting their employees and customers during the pandemic. In these businesses, even a small outbreak can dramatically reduce production, or cause a complete facility shutdown, due to isolation requirements when workers are exposed to the virus.
Is there anything else manufacturers or people who do business with them should know?
The pandemic is evolving and it probably won’t be over anytime soon, so we all need to remain up-to-date and ready to adapt our programs accordingly. Ultimately, it’s the people of an organization that will make the biggest difference in minimizing COVID-19 risk. So, companies need to do everything they can to support their people and make it easy to comply with preventive measures.