Safely Getting Back to Work: 4 Ways to Reduce the Spread of Germs in Your Manufacturing Facility

worker in construction gear wearing face mask

Manufacturing workers are some of the employees that have the highest risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in your facility. It’s important to identify and minimize the exposure risks as much as possible to help them safely return to work during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has had, and will continue to have, a huge impact on our personal lives and our economic responsibilities. Promoting coronavirus safety and implementing changes that help reduce the spread of germs in your manufacturing facility helps protect your employees and is simply good business.

In this article you will find 4 practical ways to reduce the spread of germs in your facility based on CDC and OSHA recommendations.  

1) Know the Exposure Risk for Manufacturing Workers

Minimal distance between individuals. During the manufacturing process, it is common for employees to work closely together on production and/or assembly lines.

Crowding may also be caused by the natural structure of the workday. For example, many employees will be clocking in and out, taking breaks and using locker/changing rooms at the same time.

Prolonged contact with coworkers. Manufacturing shifts are generally between 8 and 12 hours long, with extended contact between coworkers. If there is an infectious person on a long shift, the risk of transmitting COVID-19 increases the longer they are near others.

Droplets in the air and contaminated surfaces. A cough or a sneeze from an infected person can cause workers to be exposed to the coronavirus through airborne particles. The same droplets can also contaminate tools, break room tables, door handles, workstations and other surfaces.

2) Create a COVID-19 Assessment and Control Plan

Designate a qualified person in your facility to act as coronavirus safety coordinator, responsible for assessing COVID-19 hazards, planning controls and staying up to date with state and county officials. This person can also lead regular work site assessments to identify COVID-19 risks and prevention strategies.

What should your coronavirus safety control plan look like?

The CDC and OSHA recommend using the hierarchy of controls approach for preventing the spread of germs. The recommended 3-point approach includes: eliminate hazards, install engineering controls and implement appropriate sanitation, cleaning and disinfection methods.

Eliminate hazards. Make sure employees know to stay home if they are sick. Make sure anyone (including contractors and visitors) that exhibits COVID-19 symptoms is separated and sent home immediately.

Install engineering controls. Engineering controls are physical changes you can make to the work environment to help employees safely return to work. This can include: configuring workstations and break areas to be at least 6 feet apart (in all directions) and providing physical barriers such as strip curtains or clear acrylic dividers.

It can also include managing facility temperature so that personal cooling fans (which can distribute droplets from a cough or sneeze) are not needed. Additionally, increasing ventilation and placing hand sanitizing stations that meet OSHA’s Sanitation standard (29 CFR 1910.141) in multiple areas.

Implement appropriate sanitation, cleaning and disinfection. Make sure employees can safely clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, first cleaning with soap and water, then disinfecting to kill germs. Provide disposable gloves, ensure adequate ventilation and make sure cleaning chemicals are properly labeled even when secondary containers are used.

3) Use Administrative Controls to Reduce Germ Spread

While engineering controls are changes to the environment WHERE people work, administrative controls are changes to HOW people work.

Administrative controls that promote corona virus safety include limiting access to essential workers only, getting rid of non-essential meeting and rearranging schedules for shifts and break times to reduce crowding. It can also include implementing germ-prevention protocols for social distancing, hand washing and using PPE as well as distributing disposable face masks. 

How to successfully implement administrative controls for coronavirus safety

Facility-wide protocols for germ-prevention are imperative for helping employees safely return to work and require effective communication to be successful. Visual cues, such as floor signs, help employees maintain 6 feet spacing in aisles, lines, work spaces and break areas.

Floor stop signs show employees and visitors alike where to stop and wait for assistance and can also be used to inform personnel of face mask requirements before entering a building. Signage can also be use direct personnel through COVID-19 screening and communicate effective handwashing techniques.

4) Screen and Monitor Workers for COVID-19

Under normal circumstances, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents employers from conducting health screening for workers. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that the ADA and Rehabilitation Act do not interfere with CDC recommendations during the pandemic.

Screen before entry to the facility. All personnel, including employees, contractors, vendors and other visitors should be screened before entering the facility. Make sure you have a station set up outside the entrance with signage clearly communicating coronavirus screening protocol.

Provide verbal screening. Ask about specific COVID-19 symptoms as outlined by the CDC which include (but are not limited to) cough, shortness of breath and new loss of taste or smell in the past 24 hours. Ask whether the person has been in close quarters with someone who has COVID-19 or recently traveled to a high-risk area as defined by the CDC.

Make sure questions during COVID-19 screening are limited to symptoms outlined by the CDC and CDC travel information regarding the coronavirus.

Check temperatures. Be alert for temperatures of 100.4°F or higher or reports of feverish feelings such as chills. Screeners performing temperature checks should: always wear appropriate PPE; be trained to use temperature monitors; and know how to accurately adjust to conditions such as cold weather, which could affect temperature accuracy.

Identify screened employees.

Having a system in place to quickly identify employees who have been screened and do not show any signs of COVID-19 symptoms is a vital component of administrative controls that help reduce the spread of germs.

Options for coronavirus screening solutions range from color-coded visual identification to barcode-capable wristbands for digitally tracking access in and throughout your facility.

What do you do if screening results indicate a worker may have COVID-19?

If coronavirus screening results indicate someone may have COVID-19, they should be separated from others and denied entrance to the facility. Employees should be sent home and encouraged to contact their doctor or other healthcare provider.

You should also supply your COVID-19 screening station with copies of your return-to-work policy so that workers who are sent home can be provided with that information. Human resources and the employee’s supervisors should be alerted so arrangements for re-assigning duties can be made if needed. 

In Summary

Manufacturing employees face a high risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus when returning to work during the pandemic. Virus protection at work must center on CDC and OSHA recommendations as well as state and county guidelines.

A robust germ-prevention program should include a plan for assessing COVID-19 hazards and implementing controls. This includes eliminating hazards and installing engineering controls as well as implementing appropriate sanitation, cleaning and disinfection,

Administrative controls that change the way people work and coronavirus screening are also crucial helping employees safely return to work. This includes meeting OSHA’s PPE standards, effectively communicating protocols and having a method in place to identify screened employees.

Additional Resources

Discover how Avery Industrial is helping you get back to work safely with specific COVID-19 safety and screening solutions.

Check your state and county for specific coronavirus safety and reopening resources. Many states are providing resources online, including California, New York and Texas.