There’s a good chance your shop weathered the majority of the pandemic with your doors open, machines running, and employees working. You may have even pumped out parts for medical devices and other essential industries.
In fact, as COVID-19 spread across the US and states issued stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, over 90% of Xometry’s manufacturing partners never stopped working as we continued to funnel them jobs from customers around the country.
However, COVID-19 is far from over and the shop floor will never be the same because of it. As your shop looks to the future, or opens for the first time in 3 months, there’s a lot to consider and do to keep your employees safe and making chips. Here, then, are 4.5 ways to protect your employees on the shop floor from current and potential future outbreaks of COVID-19.
Educate Your Employees
Shop owners and managers should train their employees in current COVID-19 health guidelines and procedures for social distancing, timeclock usage, use of common areas, disinfecting and proper PPE usage. Be sure to remind everyone often of their responsibilities in flattening the curve and stopping the spread.
While teleworking opportunities are not available for many employees on the shop floor, office staff or other employees who work mostly online should be given the option and flexibility to work from home. The fewer people in the shop, the lower the chances are of transmission.
If an employee does get sick or shows signs of COVID-19 symptoms such as a fever, follow CDC and state guidelines regarding home isolation, which is typically staying home continuously for 14 days. If symptoms develop at work, designate an isolation area until the employee is able to go home. Be sure to communicate action plans for those who were directly or potentially exposed in the time between the sick person was tested and found to be positive for COVID-19. If possible, provide proper PPE supplies and train employees on how to properly wear and remove masks and gloves.
Prepare Your Shop Floor
Your shop floor is the heart of your business. Making sure it’s safe for employees to operate machines, pack parts, and do their jobs is key. First, you’ll want to zone your shop floor and encourage employees to remain in their designated area to the fullest extent possible. This prevents employees from cross contaminating workspaces.
If you can, place partitions such as plexiglass to separate people that work together in the same machine cell or shipping and receiving areas. Get out your tape measure and mark floors and work areas with 6-feet distance markers to remind workers to social distance.This is especially important if you’re unable to keep people a safe distance apart. Also important is increasing ventilation rates to bring in more fresh air from the outside. COVID-19 has shown low transmission rates outside and in well-ventilated areas. If your shop has a garage door and it’s a nice day, open it up.
If you can, appoint an employee or assemble a team responsible for implementing and monitoring guidelines provided by the CDC, OSHA, and your state so your shop is always following the latest recommendations for keeping everyone safe.
Keep Your Distance
We all know the 6-foot rule by now and it’s just as important outside or at the store as it is on the shop floor. Ways to implement this include staggering shift start/stop times, break times, and lunchtimes to minimize groups at break areas and on the shop floor. If you run multiple shifts, consider keeping the number of team members consistent in an effort to isolate and contain any potential outbreak and minimize cross contamination.
Although social distancing feels cold and foreign, it’s important to keep your distance to prevent transmission of the deadly COVID-19.
Reduce Touch Points and Increase Cleaning
While the science is showing that COVID-19 transmission from surface contact is lower than from close proximity contact with a sick individual, it’s still important to keep workspaces clean and wash your hands. Provide employees easy access to hand washing or hand sanitizers, and require employees to wash/sanitize hands at the beginning and end of each shift, before and after lunch or any other breaks including restroom visits.
Clean and disinfect “high-touch” surfaces in accordance with CDC guidance, at least as often as each shift change. Where possible, open or remove doors to reduce or eliminate touched surfaces.
While the above suggestions are important for the safety and health of your employees, the best thing you can do for your shop is to be flexible. If there are employees capable of doing their work remotely, let them. Consider moving from a single shift to two, or from two to three, to limit the number of employees on the shop floor at any given time. If an employee feels sick, give them the time they need to isolate and recover. If someone feels unsafe returning to the shop, work together to find a flexible solution that makes everyone feel comfortable.
COVID-19 isn’t going away until a vaccine is found, which at best won’t be widely available until 2021, and the possibility of future outbreaks is high, especially as states begin to open up and people head back to work. The shop floor may never be the same again, but you can take steps now to make it a healthy and safe place to work for everyone involved.