Four Alabama automakers have ramped up production following the COVID-19 outbreak, with strict new protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus at their manufacturing facilities. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz all are implementing similar measures as employees return to work, including temperature checks, staggered shifts, frequent sanitizing, and additional protective gear.
The restart of operations at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama engine plant in Huntsville has been smooth since it began in mid-May, officials said. Employees are having their temperature taken each time they return to work, answering a questionnaire to identify any potential exposure to the virus, and practicing social distancing on the job, during all lunch breaks, and during shift changes.
There are also staggered shift patterns; frequent sanitizing in high-traffic areas; reconfigured conference rooms, cafeterias, and other meeting spaces; and an increase in the use and availability of personal equipment such as face masks, face shields, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
“Our phased approach to resuming operations allows employees and stakeholders at Toyota North American manufacturing plants and administrative facilities to return to a work environment that has implemented a number of policies and procedures to help ensure their health and safety,” the automaker said in a statement.
Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Talladega County also gradually began resuming vehicle, engine, and transmission production last month. Prior to resuming production, the automaker trained front-line leaders on new procedures and activities related to COVID-19 prevention, and employees learned about the new safety measures and re-trained on work processes.
Among the new safety efforts are temperature scanning of all Honda employees, suppliers, contractors, and visitors. No one with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher is allowed inside Honda facilities.
Masks and cloth face coverings are required at all times inside all buildings unless people are eating or drinking, and Honda plants and offices are providing one new mask per day for every employee. Face shields also are required in certain areas, and cleaning and disinfecting activities have increased.
The plant has also staggered shift start times to reduce the number of people entering and leaving at one time; staggered lunch and break times, with reconfigured seating in those areas; limited capacity in restrooms and locker rooms; adjusted processes and workstations to achieve social distancing on the production line as much as possible; and increased signage to remind employees of social distancing, good hygiene and other safety measures.
“Honda will continue to maximize opportunities for associates to work remotely, while practicing social distancing for associates performing essential roles that require them to work at Honda facilities,” the company said in a statement.
In Montgomery, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama (HMMA) has been running a one-shift operation of its vehicle assembly processes since May 4, according to company spokesman Robert Burns.
“Our engine machining and assembly operations are on a modified schedule to complement the needs of the automotive assembly processes,” he said.
HMMA benchmarked safety protocols implemented in Hyundai’s auto plants in South Korea, Burns added. The company also participated in idea-sharing conference calls, coordinated by the Original Equipment and Suppliers Association, to determine measures it would take to protect employees’ health.
Safety practices include thermal temperature scanning and mask distribution upon arrival; requiring face masks to be worn at all time unless eating or drinking; staggering lunch breaks and shifts to reduce congestion in high-traffic areas; installing barriers in workstations and partitions on break tables; continuous cleaning of high-contact and high-touch surfaces; and promoting social distancing where possible.
At Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa County, production restarted in late April. The automaker said it had monitored and learned from other Mercedes plants around the world as Alabama workers returned, and the facility also implemented safety practices gleaned from groups like the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. Measures adopted include the mandatory wearing of face masks, temperature checks at entry and separation of workers in break rooms, cafes, and common areas.
“We will continue to monitor federal and state guidance and regulations throughout this ramp up period, and will make whatever changes as may become necessary to ensure our team members’ safety and to ensure the required production capacities of the highly demanded SUV models coming out of Alabama,” the automaker said in a statement.
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