News from the Trenches: COVID Lessons in a Working Facility
As the pandemic continues, it can seem as though we get new safety guidelines every week. In March, we were looking out for coughs – but not worrying much about congestion or sore throats. Now all bets seem to be off as we’re wondering if symptoms of any kind might be ominous. The good news is we’ve learned a lot and, while there are undoubtedly more changes coming, we do know what’s working to keep COVID from spreading in our facilities.
Back in May, we shared what we were doing as a manufacturer to keep our employees safe, our doors open, and production running. As we continue this journey with you, we’re updating those lessons to share what we’ve learned that might help you to protect your people and make your job a little easier.
Safety and Sanitation for COVID
Advice for Managers
Modifications to your building, from simple to structural, and changes to your work schedules and practices can keep infections from spreading.
While masks were scarce at the beginning of the pandemic, stock has been replenished for most types and it’s now possible to provide and require mask wearing for all employees, contractors and visitors. Click here for more information on various mask types and their uses.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and the National Safety Council advise the use of masks to help stop the spread of germs where social distancing and other measures may not be enough.
- Be sure workers have enough room to social distance when punching in and out. Extend line markers into the parking lot if necessary to allow enough room for people to spread out.
- Provide PPE at entrances so people can don it immediately when they arrive.
- Provide sanitizing supplies near all doors and common work areas so if someone grabs a hand rail, they can wipe their hands at the bottom of the stairs before they move on to another area.
- Install or use existing camera systems to track places where people tend to congregate and see how you can help to encourage social distancing.
Making compliance easy, convenient, and visible increases the likelihood that workers will make safer choices.
Increase the mix of fresh air being drawn into the building. Depending on your HVAC system, you may need to draw as much as 70% fresh air into your facility to keep the air as safe as possible. Again, depending on your HVAC system, you may also add HEPA or MERV-rated filters to your air system to trap some particles and droplets that may be in the air. Be sure to do your research to find out what size and percentage of particles a given filter might promise to trap.
As of this writing, it seems that COVID-19 is primarily an airborne illness. So wearing masks along with paying attention to your air mix may be some of the best ways to avoid infection in your facility.
- Arrange your break rooms and lunch rooms with social distancing in mind. Reduce your normal number of chairs to provide minimal seating at the same tables.
- Split lunch and break times into separate sections with fewer people.
- Assign specific bathrooms for specific groups.
- Modify your shift schedules to accommodate extra time needed for people to move from one place to another.
A table surrounded by chairs is an invitation for people to congregate. Encouraging distance, allowing fewer people to take breaks at the same time, and designating restrooms all help to encourage social distancing. This allows you to better trace contacts in case of an infection.
- Evaluate your doors. Do you have some that may be safely left open to avoid touches? Can you change emergency exits into regular entrances/exits?
- Install hands-free options wherever possible including bar code scanning, and extra keyboards or other handheld devices that are normally shared.
- Replace faucets and flush valves in your restrooms to be hands-free.
- Install wrist door-pulls in bathroom stalls and explain their use to employees.
Again, although the current thinking is that the primary danger is in the air, fewer touches mean fewer germs spread. These practices will also help to minimize false alarms from colds or other illnesses that can be spread in your facility and cause COVID scares.
Safety and Sanitation for COVID
Advice for Employees
Creating an attitude that we’re all in this together not only helps keep your facility safer, it also gives people action they can take to restore a sense of control and autonomy, which can be an important morale booster!
- Wipe down any equipment before/after use.
- Hold virtual meetings rather than in person, even for people who are in the same building.
- Limit interactions both at work and outside of work.
- For carpools, drivers should clean vehicles before and after use. Provide masks, gloves, and safety glasses for all carpool participants.
- Employees who live together should remember that they’ll all need to quarantine together in case of an incident.
Employers: Providing PPE and advice to employees for their time at work as well as at home can prevent infections from entering your facility in the first place. Lend a hand where you can to keep everyone healthy 24/7.
Good communication is an everyday essential for safety, and that’s doubly true in a pandemic.
Have socially-distant daily huddles to communicate to smaller groups more frequently. If you have non-English speakers, be sure to have a fluent speaker translate.
This level of communication ensures that everyone hears the same message and knows what may have changed from day to day. Keeping everyone informed fosters trust and confidence between you and your employees.
Communicate in multiple ways — in person, email, texting, posting at timeclocks, with handouts, etc. Be sure to translate everything to all languages spoken by your employees.
Signage is especially important in work areas and high traffic areas. Move signs and change their look periodically to keep people seeing them. A sign that’s been up too long blends into the landscape!
People learn and remember in various ways. Reinforcing verbal messages with written reminders helps to drive your points home.
Since it’s hard to gather participants close together in a room, utilize virtual training and self-serve training like handouts, videos, and smaller group sessions.
With all the extra rules, guidelines, and distractions, frequent training keeps both new and old rules top of mind for everyone.
Using Your Own Teams to Deep Clean for COVID
Again, although the main danger seems to be airborne, that doesn’t mean germs aren’t present on surfaces that may cause COVID or may simply cause colds or flu that will encourage false alarms and unwelcome extra stress. The National Safety Council continues to recommend thorough cleaning of surfaces anywhere from twice a day to as often as hourly depending on how frequently an area is used. But should you hire an outside cleaning crew, or do it yourself? Hiring an outside firm is certainly the simplest option and it frees you from the obligation to stock the right supplies. But doing it yourself provides benefits that you might not expect.
Create cleaning teams for each area of your facility and assign Team Leaders to coordinate. These teams may consist of volunteers as well as regular janitorial staff. Be sure you have backup leaders and backup cleaners, ready to move if an incident occurs.
- You can react quickly in case of infection, sending a cleaning crew to deep clean an affected area.
- Your team knows best how they use their equipment and which areas need extra attention.
- Cleaning with your own team gives you flexibility for focusing on different areas or changing the schedule more easily.
Divide your facility into small, manageable areas and assign team leaders and teams to each area.
This helps make responding to an incident easier to manage.
Create a deep-cleaning schedule in addition to your normal cleaning and rotate to deep clean a new area each day.
This practice keeps your facility generally cleaner and safer than usual and may even help you stay ahead of the germs.
Have cleaning carts equipped and ready to go at a moment’s notice if someone displays symptoms or finds out they may have had exposure elsewhere.
- full suit coveralls
- safety glasses
- N95 or other masks
- cleaning supplies including wipes and aerosol or liquid disinfectants
This preparation allows your team to respond quickly and allows employees to spring into action when they need to without extra discussion or the need to retrieve supplies. This level of preparedness also demonstrates to employees that you’re ready and responding quickly, which can ease some anxiety in case of an infection.
New Technologies for COVID
Every entrepreneur has a big new idea that will help keep us all safe. Choose your new tech wisely and consider a short trial period before buying for everyone.
These watch-like accessories utilize Bluetooth technology to look for other devices on the same frequency. If they recognize another device within 6 feet, they vibrate to alert the wearer. The devices also update a central system and upload data from a triggered device about who else the wearer may have come into contact with.
Frequent contact can alert you to employees who are not following social distancing guidelines and may need reminders or even help in reorganizing how they’re working.
Magid’s trial of these showed that they were useful to help alert individuals by vibrating when they were too close to someone else, but tracking and uploading often provided inconsistent data.
These apps take employees’ temperatures before they enter the building and alert supervisors of anyone with a temperature at or above the CDC Guideline of 101.4.
The jury is still out on the necessity of temperature taking. But it will at least catch any cases of people who don’t realize they have a fever and may make everyone more conscious of tracking how they feel each morning.
Expect the Unexpected
Remember that your employees are as nervous as you are about working during a pandemic. Infections in your facility are frightening and may cause people to stay home. Our experience with a few initial infections was that once our employees realized that the measures we took were effectively preventing the spread in our facility, they felt safer at work.
Everyone’s understanding of the virus, its transmission, and impact continues to evolve rapidly. Our best advice is to create a plan, have patience, and select leaders who are calm and not prone to overreaction. Then follow your plan, debrief often, and adjust as you learn.
Get more helpful advice, useful products, and an opportunity to help others at Magid’s COVID HQ.