Essential Businesses With Manufacturing- Adding COVID-19 Practices Into Your Health & Safety Culture
Written by Carla Bachunas, CHMM and Leslie Nicholas who work for BBJ Group
Many states are now under some version of a “Stay at Home” Order, with variations, updated, and/or new Orders being issued on an almost daily basis. These various Orders typically define “essential businesses” and manufacturing in some form or another is often included in this category, leaving many employers left to decide how best to protect their employee’s health and safety and keep their business operating in a sustainable fashion.
Below are some key concepts to understand about the virus and how it spreads, with practical ideas on best practices to consider for your workplace.
Understanding certain fundamentals about the disease is key to determining your best strategies for providing protection for your employees.
Coronavirus Disease 2019, commonly called COVID-19, is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is in the family of coronaviruses. This new strain had not previously been identified in humans and much is still unknown about how the virus spreads. Although the first human cases of COVID-19 likely resulted from exposure to infected animals, infected people can now spread the virus to other people. Currently, spread appears to occur from person to person primarily through the following means:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Droplets can land in peoples’ mouths or noses if they are nearby someone who coughs or sneezes, and from there these droplets can possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It may also be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the SARS-CoV-2 virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. Scientists and health officials are still learning about how long the virus can live on these various surfaces.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in some affected geographic areas, the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to be spreading via community spread – in other words, people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected. Although there have been reports of transmission by individuals who are asymptomatic, the primary mechanism for spreading the virus occurs when people are most contagious – i.e., when they are the most symptomatic or are feeling the sickest. Some reports indicate that as many as 1 in 4 individuals may have COVID-19 but are showing no symptoms.
People with COVID-19 can have symptoms that range from mild to severe and, in some cases, the disease can be fatal. Symptoms typically include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. According to the CDC, symptoms of COVID-19 may appear as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends businesses prepare an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan, which provides a vehicle for companies to document how they will work to reduce the risk of employees being exposed to SARS-CoV-2. More details on these plans – including for those workplaces with higher risks – can be obtained from OSHA.
For work settings with lower risk, protective measures recommended by the CDC for the general public also apply in the workplace. Bringing those measures specifically into your workplace means evaluating the hazards your workers may be exposed to and implementing protective measures to reduce these hazards, as discussed on OSHA’s website for COVID-19. Below we discuss some of the CDC’s recommendations for the general public and provide examples of how you can adapt them to a workplace setting.
The best way to protect oneself is to avoid close contact with people who are sick and to put distance between oneself and other people. This is known as social distancing. Per the CDC’s recommendation, social distancing involves “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance” whenever possible to limit the ability of the virus to spread. Social distancing places no locational constraints: rather, it is a behavioral practice to lower the risk in most circumstances.
Social distancing is a response to the idea that, during a disease outbreak, many people can’t just stay home all the time. Most people need to access public services like the post office, the bank, or a grocery store. Social distancing in these cases means doing the best one can to be mindful of personal space, keeping encounters with others to a minimum, and being mindful of one’s hygiene routine (i.e., making sure to wash hands or use hand sanitizer frequently). Although these trips out of the house may have lower risks of exposing individuals to SARS-CoV-2, any contact with other people and unknown surfaces can represent a potential exposure risk. Such individuals could then be carrying the virus without being aware they have been exposed.
If your business is considered essential and is still operating, look for ways to implement social distancing where possible. For example, limit the number of employees in the lunchroom/breakroom and limit the number of employees per table to allow for a six-foot separation. One way to accomplish this it to remove chairs from the lunchroom/breakroom. To increase lunchroom/breakroom space, portable tents can be installed to allow for social distancing, or slight modifications to shift schedules may be needed. Extra chairs should also be removed from pulpits/work-stations on the manufacturing floor.
Another tip for social distancing is to limit the number of people at the time clock at shift change by installing visual markings to assist with social distancing measures. If the facility has locker rooms consider closing them or limiting the number of people in the locker room at one time. You can also review shift times to evaluate whether staggering shifts is possible. For production areas, place markers on the floor indicating 6-foot intervals to help workers keep safe distances from each other whenever possible.
As spring approaches, severe weather will be impacting many regions of the country. Review your storm shelter locations and determine if there is enough space for social distancing. If not, review other locations in the facility to increase the number of shelter-in-place locations. Remember to train all employees on new shelter locations.
Review your shipping and receiving practices. Ensure truck drivers have a good, social-distancing-enabled place to wait while trucks are being loaded/unloaded. Portable restrooms and handwashing stations may be needed for truck drivers, rather than having them enter your plant building. In addition, look for ways to limit contact with paperwork. For example, use paper drop boxes to pass papers between the shipping/receiving personnel and truck drivers. Find ways to maintain a six-foot separation for verbal communication between your shipping and receiving personnel and drivers.
Higher Risk Employees
Although anyone at any age is at risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease has been reported as impacting older adults and others with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, at a greater rate than other individuals. The CDC recommends that these individuals stay home as much as possible. If you have high risk employees, talk to your HR department and your healthcare advisers about the job risks for these individuals and make them aware of such risks. Frequent and transparent communication will help in such situations.
Hand Washing/Cleaning and Disinfecting
One of the best ways to protect oneself is through hand washing and not touching one’s face or eyes.
Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after being in a public place; touching potentially contaminated surfaces or objects (keys, cell phone, doorknobs, computer keyboards, telephones, railings, control equipment, machines parts, etc.); after touching the nose or mouth; after coughing or sneezing on or near the hands; before, during, and after food preparation; prior to eating; after using the toilet; after touching animals or animal waste; after changing diapers; and whenever hands are dirty.
Although not required, it can be beneficial to post hand-washing reminder signs throughout your facility with instructions similar to the below:
- Remove all jewelry from the hands.
- First, wet hands under running water. Then apply soap.
- Rub all surfaces of the hands vigorously for a minimum of 20 seconds. Remember to wash your thumbs and in between your fingers.
- Rinse the hands under running water. Dry with a clean cloth or disposable paper towel.
- Avoid splashing.
- Turn off the tap without re-contaminating the hands - use the disposable paper with which hands were dried.
If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol should be used. Remind your employees to cover all surfaces of the hands and rub them together until they feel dry; clean the thumbs and in between the fingers.
Consider renting or purchasing portable handwashing units for the manufacturing floor to allow for recommended hygiene practices to be followed throughout the day. In addition, consider adding hand sanitizers at the entrances/exits of the facility.
Many shared objects are capable of transmitting the virus via indirect transmission. Obvious examples include doorknobs, grocery carts, computer equipment (keyboard and mouse), toilet flush buttons, elevator buttons, light switches, car door handles, etc. However, in a manufacturing setting, additional such objects may include buttons, controls, and levers on production equipment, as well as commonly used objects such as tools, keys, and clipboards. Work with supervisors to identify the most commonly touched surfaces and identify mechanisms for these surfaces to be cleaned/disinfected frequently. If possible, provide nitrile (or similar) gloves to employees that have to touch common surfaces often; ensure they are instructed in proper glove removal and disposal, and also remind them to wash their hands as soon as possible after removing these gloves.
Work with your janitorial team to identify additional areas within your facility that may require more frequent cleaning and disinfecting. OSHA recommends using cleaning products that are recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for use against SARS-CoV-2. Provide additional training to these workers on how to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use (e.g., concentration, application, method and contact time, and personal protective equipment [PPE]).
High-touch surfaces may require additional cleaning throughout the day. If possible, place cleaning wipes or disinfectants, disposable towels, and “no-touch” trash cans at accessible locations throughout the production floor. If these materials are not immediately accessible, work with your janitorial team to identify alternatives that may work.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, seemingly simple things can make a huge difference. One such practice that can reduce risk of contamination is the proper way to protect others while coughing. Provide awareness training or communication to your workers reminding them of good respiratory etiquette behaviors. Posters describing these practices in frequently trafficked locations will help spread the word and serve as friendly reminders to staff. Make to cover:
- Using a tissue to cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- If a tissue is not available, it is preferable to cover the nose and mouth with the upper sleeve and to NOT use your hands unless you can wash them immediately afterwards (take care to clean any faucet handles touched during this process).
- Dispose of used tissues in the nearest waste receptacle.
- Wash your hands after covering a cough or sneeze.
- In common areas, try to sit at least 6 feet away from coughing individuals.
The most important thing you can do to help your workers feel safe is to communicate openly and often. As the global situations unfolds, and more information becomes available, remaining calm and organized will help your team stay calm. Keep yourself current on the situation by routinely monitoring information and resources shared by the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and your local health departments. Allow flexibility in your work procedures so that you can readily adapt them when new information or recommendations are published by these organizations, and communicate with your employees accordingly.
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