6 Ways to Ensure Pandemic Safety of Manufacturing Employees
While we’re certainly not out of the woods of the Coronavirus outbreak, many employees have been creeping cautiously back into the workforce.
For those in the food manufacturing industry, work never stopped. Essential workers kept food production steady, taking risks to ensure the United States had plenty of food in grocery stores and restaurants. As we see the workforce return to some normalcy, it’s more important than ever to continue diligence and practice pandemic safety for food manufacturing.
America relies on our steady food supply to keep us fed and to keep business moving. Grocery stores need to restock shelves with food and beverages, especially as people have returned to home cooking. Restaurants need to ensure access to their suppliers’ deliveries so they can keep those to-go and delivery orders going steady.
Food manufacturers have long been the unsung heroes of the food industry. Many people don’t realize the work, production, and effort that goes into ensuring the arrival of safe, healthy, delicious food and beverages to their table. If there’s a silver lining in the Coronavirus outbreak, it’s been the recognition of the crucial role of food manufacturing and an appreciation of the essential frontline workers who produce our supply.
But small and large bottling, packaging, and manufacturing producers know that keeping the operation going is no small feat. Worker’s health and safety are always at the forefront of concern. So how can food manufacturing companies continue to ensure the protection of workers? As we start to cautiously emerge from social distancing and back into day-to-day life, here are 6 steps plant managers and facility owners should take to ensure the safety of manufacturing employees.
1. Communicate Constantly
Communication is the key to good business practice in any industry, but in an essential industry like food and beverage manufacturing, it’s critical. New information about the Coronavirus is still emerging and will likely be developing for a long time to come. As a novel virus, it’s new to scientists and it may take years for them to understand the effects and needed steps for mitigation.
As information evolves, convey that to your workers. With adjusted schedules and extra shifts to track, employees need to know what’s going on whenever possible. Set up easy-to-see signage, post relevant information in several locations, and encourage forepersons and supervisors to disseminate critical instructions before each shift. Whenever possible, use technology to your advantage as well. In a recent study by Clear Seas Research, 95% of food processing leaders use email, and 66% use text messages to share important information with their teams.
It’s also essential to keep the lines of communication open to employees. Workers who are concerned about their job security or financial situation may be hesitant to report symptoms or concerns that can lead to missed shifts. While fulfillment and quotas are important, right now, the safety of your manufacturing employees is even more crucial. Encourage an environment where employees feel comfortable voicing concerns. Listen and address their worries whenever possible.
2. Follow Regulations and Stay Up on the Latest Information
Check with authorities regularly. The FDA, USDA, and CDC are continuously updating guidelines for food manufacturing and production. With emerging data, certain areas may face differing guidance depending on the prevalence of the virus and other concerns. Check with your local health department, OSHA, and your insurance company to keep your approach current. The Cornell University Institute for Food Safety has a comprehensive listing of resources for food manufacturing.
Guidelines change over time, especially over the past few months. At the early onset of the virus, masks were deemed unnecessary and authorities encouraged the use only in cases of medical necessity. Now masks have become mandatory in certain situations and highly encouraged for everyone. Mask use is just one example of how guidance can evolve as our knowledge of the virus grows.
You may want to designate one or two administrators as touchpoints for new information. They should check in with all information sources weekly (more frequently if your area or industry emerges as a hotspot or if you have specific concerns). Any new information should be posted and distributed through supervisors and those lower on the chain of command.
3. Encourage Social Distancing
One universal step that’s highly encouraged by authorities is to implement social distancing measures. In a busy production line, keeping a distance can be challenging, but during the pandemic, distancing is vital for safety in food manufacturing.
One of the biggest challenges of social distancing is remembering to practice it. It’s not uncommon to see employees forget to distance as shifts run on. We’re social creatures who naturally navigate toward each other. Keep marks on the floor to remind everyone what 6 feet apart looks like.
When distancing isn’t possible, you may need to find creative options. Plastic shields and barriers are one possible option to keep workers apart. Ventilation systems are imperative right now. Don’t rely on a practice simply because that’s “how we’ve always done it.” You may need to change shifts, identify ways to distance on the floor, and space out your line. Watch for jobs that workers can accomplish further apart.
4. Practice Good Hygiene
Handwashing and hygiene have been crucial components of food manufacturing for a long time. Although some food manufacturing jobs require gloves, it’s important to remember that gloves aren’t ever a substitute for handwashing and can convey a false sense of security and safety.
Employees should wash their hands regularly—after using the restroom, of course, but also after touching door handles and other communal surfaces, sneezing, touching their face, or taking a break. Ensure that sinks are well stocked with soap, hot water, and proper paper toweling. Keeping extra supplies on hand will ensure that employees can keep up hygiene practices.
Follow the typical protocol (hair coverings, shoe coverings, and sterile clothing) for food manufacturing, but reinforce sanitization guidelines. One comforting aspect of Coronavirus is that it isn’t easily transmitted through food. Still, sanitation practices are important and at the forefront of everyone’s mind these days, making it an excellent time to revisit them with your team.
5. Implement and Enforce Your Face Mask Policy
The great “mask debate” rages on amongst many city and county officials, but in food manufacturing, masks have been recommended and encouraged as a safety precaution. As we all deal with the “new normal” of mask-wearing, it’s a good time to review the best practices.
Masks should be worn properly covering the mouth and nose. Beards may interfere with mask coverings, so encourage your team to keep facial hair short and well-groomed (everyone hates wearing beard nets on the line anyway). Employees shouldn’t touch the front of their mask during work (adjust using the ear straps instead).
If possible, provide employees with extra disposable masks to change into after they take a break, or if their mask has become dirty or contaminated. In a hot work environment, masks can quickly become uncomfortable, so it may be helpful to allow employees to take frequent breaks and to keep temperatures in break areas cooler.
6. Find Creative Ways to Keep Employees Safer
Small safety steps for your manufacturing employees make a big difference. One CEO found that something as innocuous as a stack of Styrofoam cups on a breakroom sink could pose a mild safety concern. Installing dispensers near the drinking areas made a difference to employees and showed them how much he cared about their safety and wellbeing.
Encourage team members to look out for each other and to remind each other when they make a mistake. Part of a strong team is the ability to communicate and discuss matters. When your team can discuss their feelings openly and express their concerns, they will become closer and work better together, increasing the overall safety of your operation. In one study, Shell Oil experienced an 84% decline in its company-wide accident rate by encouraging workers to express their emotions in a therapeutic setting. While food manufacturing may present different challenges, we can learn a lesson about the importance of expressing feelings when working in a team.
It’s also important to recognize that there are many different viewpoints and feelings about the current situation. While everyone on your team may not agree with each protocol or policy, supervisors and managers must listen to them openly. In a crucial job like food and beverage manufacturing, workers need acknowledgment and attention even if it’s simply a reminder that they’re doing a great job and that their work is an essential part of the fight against the global pandemic.
Reliable Water Services is Here for You
Hot water is critical to health, sanitation, and safety in general, but it’s especially vital to the industries we serve—and the majority of those industries are considered essential businesses. As our customers remain operational during these unprecedented times, so does Reliable Water Services.
Making sure our customers have hot water has always been our main priority, and now more than ever, we are here for you. We will continue to provide 24/7 water heater services to our customers, ensuring you have the hot water your business relies on. Our office team is practicing social distancing by working remotely or staying 6 feet apart with masks our on while in the office. Meanwhile, our service technicians and installing contractors are following extra safety guidelines to ensure they can service your building safely without putting themselves or your staff members at risk.
Our team at RWS has always viewed the relationship with each of our customers as a partnership. Through this partnership, we will work together and get through these unique and challenging times. As always, should you need service contact us 24/7 at 1-800-356-1444. Stay safe, and be well!