Safety In Manufacturing Plants During COVID-19

Apply these lessons learned to keep employees healthy in manufacturing facilities.

By Lawyna Holland-Parish
From the December 2020 Issue

Effective cleaning and communication are crucial across manufacturing facilities, and the pandemic has only magnified the need. As a company that oversees cleaning crews in regulated manufacturing facilities across the country, we at Compass Group have learned several lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic to date. And as cases continue to surge, these lessons have solidified into best practices to ensure workplace safety for manufacturing employees.

manufacturing facilities
(Photo: Getty Images)

1. Be agile. Facilities managers in manufacturing facilities have learned to become flexible to respond quickly to client demands. This includes how we protect the health of our end-users while experts continue to learn new information about how the disease spreads. For instance, a recent Australian study found that the coronavirus can survive for 28 days on some surfaces. This is a significantly longer timeframe than previously reported and is an important reminder that effective disinfection remains critical in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

To combat this, enhanced cleaning of regulated spaces has been extended to proxy spaces, including locker rooms and gown-in areas.

In addition to traditional e-mail and internal website updates, we now communicate procedural changes via our employee engagement app. Direct exchange with our hourly associates has proven to be the most effective method for updates, as safety incidents decreased 28% YOY since the app was rolled out in 2019.

2. Be loud. Communicate with end-users in the facility early and often. Employees can have a lot of anxiety about going into the workplace during a pandemic, and as such, they must be aware of what their employer and facilities management team is doing to keep them safe. The ways you typically communicate with these stakeholders might not be adequate in this current environment. In collaboration with these stakeholders, identify a limited number of key messages and repeat them across multiple channels, through spokespeople that they know and trust.

Not all manufacturing end-users are connected to company e-mail like a corporate office client. At our company, we have leveraged our workplace experience app to send cleaning schedules and procedural changes directly to the manufacturing customers we serve.

3. Be seen. Long before the pandemic, a survey from professional hygiene brand Tork found that 94% of manufacturing employees felt that a hygienic, healthy and risk-free work environment impacts their happiness and productivity (57% strongly agree). Since COVID-19, it’s become even more important for these employees to see the commitment to a clean and safe workplace.

At the facilities we serve, we show this by making sure the increase in our cleaning frequency is visible during peak times of all operational shifts. In the past, the cleaning crews were hidden away—working shifts when most line workers or office staff were not in the building. Now, however, high-touch surface disinfection and gown-in restocking should be ongoing during normal working hours, and the cleaning associates should be front-and-center to demonstrate the efforts being made to ensure workplace safety for all.

In addition to adjusting facility cleaning schedules to align with peak traffic times, cleaning teams in brightly colored uniforms help to shine a spotlight on the disinfection efforts being performed. Cleaning schedules, with associate sign-off, have always been seen in regulated spaces in our work. Now these items are also posted in customers’ view, reinforcing the schedule communicated to them via our workplace experience app.

Lastly, empower the facilities management associates to be spokespeople for the company’s efforts to keep employees safe by routinely sharing with them the communication that is sent to the client and end-users. The disinfection team can act as brand ambassadors for the workplace safety program, providing answers to the most frequently asked questions.

4. Be diligent. There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, so we shouldn’t assume that the kind of cleaning we’ve always done will be effective against it. Continue to regularly check and follow CDC and EPA guidelines for effective disinfection. At Compass Group, we have deployed hospital-grade cleaning procedures across our corporate client facilities, with enhanced cleaning for targeted areas.

Lastly—and most importantly—the quality of cleaning should be the top priority. There is a good deal of misinformation, including rushed-to-market gadgets that claim to offer a unique disinfection ability. Sticking to the basics of using proven products, with proper application, on the right schedule remains the most effective option.

In early 2020, we all had to pivot to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the facilities we support. Now that infection rates are rising again, we must take the lessons we have already learned and apply them to best keep each other safe and healthy in 2021 while keeping the factory floors operating.

manufacturing facilities

Holland-Parish is the National Director of Quality Assurance for Compass Group North America, a facility services provider for the business and industry market, where she is leveraging her extensive experience in corporate and regulatory compliance to lead teams of disinfection crews.

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