Creating Order after Chaos: Safety In Manufacturing Industries post COVID-19
“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”― Mizuta Masahide (17th century Japanese poet and samurai)
2020 as we know it, is a year of disasters, disruptions, new paradigms, and unprecedented crisis. Although the pandemic is our own doing, recovery is not optional and cannot be left to divine intervention. What follows hereon must be entirely thought through and executed with utmost care for the safety and preservation of humanity on this planet.
As the monsoon of 2020 presents itself just round the corner, business leaders are faced with existential decisions to make today in order to thrive in the doldrums of tomorrow. The most pressing of them is workplace safety in lieu of the potential hazards of the ongoing pandemic. The prolonged stagnation in the manufacturing segment pushed the per capita despondency to staggering highs.
Resumption of Operations goes Horribly Wrong at Bajaj plant in Aurangabad:
Battling the economic slump came at a steep price of a COVID spike in several industries. A rise in COVID growth was very inevitable after the commencement of Unlock 1.0 which was targeted at reviving manufacturing but introduced during peak COVID growth. BUT WHO WOULD”VE THOUGHT IT COULD GO SO WRONG?
Having taken a lockdown beating, a hopeful Bajaj opened the gates to its largest manufacturing plant in Waluj, Aurangabad in the last week of April. The massive plant which employs 8,100 workmen and contractors reported its first COVID case on June 6, 2020. By June 23rd their cases on-premises had skyrocketed to 165 and now stand beyond 200 with 2 demises!
What the Company has to say:
In an official report, Bajaj declared that it was operating in 2 shifts since the last week of April and had firmed Sunday as their weekly off. Saturdays had been dedicated to planned shutdowns due to subdued demand and were used to carry out maintenance activities on the plant. They clarified that all possible precautions had been taken as soon as they discovered a positive among them. Company officials said that they have created facilities for testing, sanitization, disinfection and quarantine on premises to contain the spread. All cases were reported to the authorities in time and support was provided by the company on all fronts to tackle the situation.
Despite having 165 identified positive cases with potential 8,000 more personnel waddling all over their gangways, Bajaj kept its plant operational. Within 2 days of this mistake, 2 employees passed away succumbing to the virus. They are now forced to shut down their plant once again considering the gravity of the situation they have at hand.
And it’s not just with Bajaj. On June 23rd, 17 security personnel from SIS who were employed by Maruti Suzuki at their Manesar plant, tested positive for COVID and have been absconding since! It has invoked legal action following an FIR against the 17 men and their manager for this sinister turn of events.
While the world ponders on tackling this effectively, let us help you establish ground rules that can facilitate continuous manufacturing in units whilst ensuring complete safety. The following is a risk pyramid released by OSHA classifying various categories of risk
What could’ve prevented the Bajaj Fiasco?
Let me draw cognizance to the fact that the presently rampant hazard is not one we can obliterate and therefore we must take the chiding of medical experts seriously by taking certain precautions listed below:
- Engineering Controls: These controls involve separating the workforce from work-related risks. These are effective irrespective of worker behaviour and cost-effective solutions to prevent what may ensue from exposure to hazards:
- Installing High-efficiency Air-Filters
- Improving the rate of ventilation in the workplace
- Installation of physical barriers to enforce social distancing norms / using plastic face shields
- Installation of drive-through windows for customer service if your service center is attached to your plant. (Applicable to small businesses)
- Administrative Controls: These controls are aimed at minimizing exposure are behaviour reliant & require cooperation from workers/employees. If you have an intractable workforce, it’s time to get your Behaviour Based Safety practices in place! Here’s a list of precautions:
- Workers showing signs of illness must be encouraged to remain home for their own safety and the safety of fellow-workmen
- Minimize interpersonal contact by replacing physical meetings with virtual video conferences and implementing teleworking if possible
- Firm up extra-hour-shifts or alternate working days for set clusters in order to ensure minimum simultaneous presence at the workplace
- Discontinuing non-essential travel, especially to COVID-ravaged locations during the outbreak
- Development of emergency communication channels to answer queries and concerns of employees for timely addressal.
- Training & educating all workmen on the possible risks of COVID and the repercussions of recalcitrance (cough etiquette and use of protective gear for prevention of spread)
- It may be a routine task for certain workmen to put on and remove protective gear as a part of their job. It is therefore important to leverage this to educate all other workmen in the correct context of their respective roles in the organization.
- Safe Working Practices: These practices encompass the administrative measures laid down in written protocols, which if followed, mitigate as well as reduce the duration, intensity and frequency of exposure to the pullulating virus. Paramount measures include:
- Creating a work environment with resources to encourage personal hygiene. E.g. provision of hand wash, zero-touch trash cans, disposable towels for workmen, sanitizers specifically containing 70% alcohol v/v, and most importantly clean surfaces to work with.
- Non-negotiable events of handwashing or using alcohol rubs such as after getting soiled or getting out of protective gear
- Putting up signboards near basins and in restrooms
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): With due reverence to the above mentioned controls, due diligence with PPEs must follow. However benchmark-worthy one’s hygiene habits may be, PPEs are a fool-proof method of averting exposure to a virus that primarily propagates itself via touch and breath.
The use of PPE is however, not a replacement for other protective and preventive strategies. PPE must be worn at all times in places prone to increase risk of propagation or increase contact. PPE include gloves, goggles, face shields, masks and respiratory equipment for emergencies as well.
It is the employer’s responsibility to make provision for PPE requirements of his/her employees. Failure to do so would be in violation of the law and could invoke legal action. PPEs also vary in a job-specific fashion, also making it the employer’s responsibility to remain at pace with change as rules and designs are modified.
Complex problems truly have simple solutions – The SIEMENS Way:
Taking the current eventuality in their stride, Siemens has proved why necessity is said to be the mother of invention. They put together tested hardware and software to creatively tackle the physical interaction conundrum.
Behold the SIMATIC Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) which continuously monitor the distance between workmen whilst collecting data on the communication with plant design as well as production line. This not only helps them maintain social distance within their premises but the gathered data also helps them improve workspace layouts, safety measures and simulate the suggested alterations before actually investing big money into the same.
The integration of this cutting edge technology into the job of the workmen was a task which they solved with a simple solution as well – embed SIMATIC RTLS transponders into the personnel’s badges which are worn as they put on their PPEs! RTLS receivers scattered across the workspace help them effectively keep an eye on workforce movement in real time. Should there be a reduction in distance between workmen within 6 feet of each other, the badges display a warning thus alerting them immediately. The data bank also reveals where ‘hot spots’ (areas of maximum risk) are in the existing layout of the workspace.
“We are helping our customers create a safe work environment, which is extremely important as they look to produce efficiently and reliably under unprecedented circumstances, The combination of real-time distancing management and digital simulations will help companies maintain safe work environments today and make educated decisions about ongoing and long-term optimization.”Tony Hemmelgarn, president and CEO of Siemens Digital Industries Software
The measures discussed in this article have been recommended by OSHA and therefore noteworthy. The only constant in life is change and 2020 is the year to embrace a humongous change in lifestyle, way of working, and hygiene habits. Which way your habits tip will define how further along with life you get.
Voracious reading regimes coupled with a penchant for writing led me away from a glamorous yet mundane corporate career. When nobody's calling, the mountains always are - you'll invariably find me atop one.