The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) regularly releases statistics on current growth trends of global manufacturing at the country and regional level. They state that the social and economic restrictions implemented worldwide to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus has led to a steep decline in manufacturing activities. However, following the lifting of lockdown restrictions in a phased manner, economic activity has bounced back. The official statistics for the third quarter of 2020 show a rise of 12.1 percent in manufacturing output compared to the significant drops of 7.9 and 4.6 percent recorded in the first and second quarters of the year.
Closer home, an NDTV article states that the decline in output prompted several companies to lay off employees for the eighth month in a row. The Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) declined to 56.3 in November 2020 from October's record of 58.9, according to IHS Markit report. In a bid to increase job opportunities and boost the economy and to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, industries are gradually picking up operations. However, offices and manufacturing units must consider the risks and examine precautionary measures before they resume operations. Some of the practices that need to be followed strictly include:
At the first level of industrial safety, communication must travel down to every level of the manufacturing chain. These include the WHO guidelines and all precautions to be taken such as social distancing, wearing masks and staying at home in case of symptoms. Smart use of online tools such as Zoom, Skype, and mass mailers can ensure communication is unhindered. An online help desk to address employee, customer, and other stakeholders' concerns is a good way to stay connected.
It is essential to reduce the risk of anyone coming to work with the Covid infection. Self-screening checklists are an efficient way of ensuring that industrial safety is maintained and the facility is free of covid positive employees. To avoid exposure and loss of productivity and man-hours, daily checks of temperature and blood oxygen levels will help. Additionally, employers could also get a questionnaire filled out to confirm if employees are symptomatic or asymptomatic.
To improve industrial safety, supervisors should encourage people to wear protective equipment, gloves, and masks depending on the nature of the manufacturing organization and encourage good practices like washing hands with soap and /or sanitizer. Increasing handwashing stations and placement of sanitizers at prominent locations that can be accessed without creating too much traffic would also help.
The factory area, where a large number of employees gather for work-related purposes, must be closely monitored, and such meetings should be minimized. Digital forms of communication should be actively encouraged. It's also important to sanitize common areas like bathrooms, lobbies, and canteens regularly.
There also needs to be strict rules against visitors who are not required to be not present on the shop floor or even the office premises. Since manufacturing units cannot work from home per se, unlike modern industries, the only way to ensure industrial safety is by following all the rules responsibly.
The new normal is here to stay for a while, so adapting to these norms can go a long way in increasing industrial safety, helping employees, and also ease of doing business.
Irrespective of the industry; manufacturing, oil and gas, electrical industries or any other sector, personal protective equipment compliance must be met. Safety and production managers must implement and develop programs that help in creating a safe workplace environment. Below are some of the equipment that industries can provide to the workers to ensure overall industrial safety during this pandemic.
PPE Kits have been in use in industrial and biohazard labs for many years. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the importance of these PPE kits as they have become essential for industrial safety. Depending on the type of industry, employers may provide PPE kits to their employees. The basic advantages of PPE kits are:
While many states have lifted restrictions and allowed the business to reopen, the second-wave spike in many cities is of concern. This has led to strict regulations requiring the use of face masks for all employees at all times. A return-to-work policy document should be addressed to ensure industrial safety with instructions on mask-wearing protocols. Masks work best when everyone wears them. Masks should cover the nose and mouth and should fit snugly without gaps. It should also be made clear to the employees that masks are not a substitute for social distancing. Some type of masks recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention depending on different industries include:
The risk of contracting the Covid-19 infection at the workplace depends on the likelihood of coming within close contact of people who may have been infected by the virus. Contact with contaminated surfaces and objects is another way of getting infected with Covid-19 at the workplace. To prevent such transmission and to ensure overall industrial safety, all workers have to be educated about frequent hand-washing with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers. Sanitizing surfaces and equipment that are frequently handled by the employees is also a practice that can help eliminate transmission of the infection.
Industrial hygiene has become an important area of focus for all industries in the covid era. Resumption of business post Covid means looking to bring back the workforce safely back to work. Establishing a thoughtful plan and putting those plans into place is essential for a safe working environment.
Safety managers should create an industrial safety and industrial hygiene plan. Areas at the workplace that have high traffic should be routinely inspected and those areas and surfaces should be cleansed and sanitized at regular intervals.
With information being available easily due to technological advancements, it is quite possible that employees may get hold of incorrect information that can cause panic and result in them taking wrong decisions that can harm the overall industrial safety protocols. To mitigate such a scenario and to promote a culture of a safe and healthy work environment, managers and employers need to collect correct information regularly from the government and health authorities and distribute such authentic information to their employees regularly.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, safety managers must make strategic and thoughtful decisions related to industrial safety that benefits their company and its employees. An organization needs to also focus on larger aspects like employee mental health and well-being. The pandemic's impact on mental health has been largely unassessed so far, but steps in this regard need to be put in place, including counseling sessions and webinars to address the same. Put out flyers, notices, messages, or emails highlighting the risks associated with Covid, and how the company is dealing with it. Such actions give employees confidence and strength to assess these risks and identify a solution.
Travel related to business must be completely restricted. Only matters of exigencies where travel is unavoidable should be carried out. All other client or internal meetings can be done virtually. This will not only help break the transmission of the virus but also help the company save costs, which in turn can be used as a Covid relief fund.
As mentioned above, any sort of events where a number of employees are required to be present, should be conducted virtually. Social distancing involves keeping a distance of at least 6 feet between employees, as this is a very effective solution to reduce the risk of the coronavirus. Establish flexible working hours so that employees work in different shifts and there are limited employees in the facility at any given time.
Q) What are the consequences of reopening without a COVID-19 safety plan in place?
There will be no clarity among the workers regarding Covid-related industrial safety which can lead to not following safety protocols like wearing masks in the facility, keeping distance, sanitizing wok equipment, etc. If workers are not educated regarding the consequences of not maintaining protocol, there could be a surge in the number of infected workers, ultimately leading to shutting down of the facility.
Q) As an employer, how should I fulfil my responsibility to ensure industrial safety?
With respect to the novel coronavirus, an employer’s obligation includes protecting workers by following the orders of health authorities and guidance provided by government regarding disease control and developing control measures to prevent worker exposure.
Q) What protocols should be placed on workers entering the facility?
The employer should implement appropriate policies to manage industrial safety at the facility, including policies around the number of workers in the facility, how to address symptoms that arise at the facility, and how workers can be kept safe in current working conditions. These should be communicated clearly to workers through training and flyers or reminders.
Q) What are must have industrial safety equipment?
Some of the must-have industrial safety equipment are safety gloves, face shields, masks, safety helmets, safety glasses, and safety shoes.
Q) How can the risk of COVID-19 transmission be reduced when workers commute to the facility?
To ensure industrial safety, make sure workers travel alone in their vehicles whenever possible. If that is not possible in cases where workers do not own a vehicle, employers should make arrangements for their transport in a company-owned vehicle, and assess the number of workers being transported at any given time in the same vehicle.
Q) What protocols should be put in place if a worker shows symptoms of Covid?
In scenarios where a worker shows symptoms of COVID-19, the employer should ask the worker to report the same to the authorities and ask him to stay at home and not come to the facility. The employer can also conduct an investigation to confirm if the exposure occurred at the facility. Until this has been done, the facility should be shut down to ensure industrial safety.
Q) How can employers support the mental health of workers?
Workers at the facility may be affected by anxiety and uncertainty created by the pandemic. Employers need to remember that mental health is a very important factor of industrial safety. They should support the workers, especially during this stressful time by having conversations, counselling sessions, and virtual get togethers to give the workers a sense of confidence and relief.
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