Canadian Manufacturing

COVID-19 webinar tackles manufacturing concerns

The most important “to dos” plus policies and procedures are covered by two industry leaders

April 6, 2020  by Joe Terrett, Editor, PLANT magazine

Working on the plant floor during the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: Adobe Stock

As Canada copes with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers must deal with shifting conditions on the ground as they do their best to keep employees safe, supply chains engaged and trade in motion.

As the number of afflicted and deaths continue to mount and business conditions tighten across the country, it’s unknown when this crisis will abate.

In Ontario, manufacturing’s heartland, the number of essential businesses allowed to stay open has been almost halved from 74 to 44. Manufacturers are still deemed essential, but they face a number of challenges as they move to keep their businesses in operation. Issues range from financial to maintaining a safe work environment for those who are still on the job.

Canadian Manufacturing, PLANT magazine and EP&T (Electronic Products and Technology) magazine hosted a webinar April 1 that addressed many of their concerns. Two panelists offered their expertise: Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) addressed some of the plant issues, while Steve Loftus, president of Innovative Automation in Barrie, Ont. provided insights derived from his company’s approach to COVID-19 risk and mitigation.

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Here are some highlights from Darby’s presentation:

• He warned manufacturers must be ready to adapt to a high level of absenteeism. Assess who is on site and allow no visitors. Anyone who doesn’t need to be at the location should work from home.

Dennis Darby, CME’s president and CEO. Photo: CME

• Those who are infected, carrying the virus or returning from travel must self-isolate for 14 days. Many manufacturers are requiring contractors to follow the same rules.

• Social distancing (six feet) isn’t always possible, but measures to consider include staggering shifts and breaks, closing the lunchroom, blocking every other urinal and limiting face-to-face meetings.

• Workers should not share tools, or if they must, disinfect the tools beforehand. Ensure there’s an adequate supply of cleaning and disinfecting materials.

• Communication is critical. Make someone responsible for getting the word out about precautions and policies. Don’t assume everyone is aware of the basics. Over-doing it is better than under-doing it.

• Have entry and exit protocols.

• What should you do if an employee tests positive for the virus? Look for information on the CME resource page.

Innovative Automation had a plan in place following the SARS event in 2003 and updated it for H1N1 (2009). Loftus detailed some of the key procedures in place at the plant.

• A cleaning crew goes over the common areas three times a day. This was enacted in early March. One person makes sure doors are propped open so they don’t need to be touched.

• A group was assigned to get information on health risks and factors to develop a plan and make the right decisions early on. Education is key. It began early with employees.

Steve Loftus, Innovative Automation president. Photo: Rodney Daw

• Travellers re-entry to the premises was restricted. Visitors were also restricted except those deemed critical. Shipping and receiving has special procedures to control interaction with drivers.

• Anyone who didn’t need to be at the facility was sent home to work. Half of the employees are still in the building. Procedures have been changed: lunch and breaks are split into three groups, the lunchroom capacity is reduced to about one-sixth at any one time and people are spread out 10 to 12 feet.

• From 3:30 to 4 p.m. each day management and owners meet online to discuss issues and changes that are occurring day to day.

• There are return to work sign-off sheets for employees who were ill or travellers.

• An alert system is in place. Employees provide cell phone numbers, and every day they are informed of what’s going on in the building and what’s changing.

• The company is developing a ventilator it hopes to put into production pending Health Canada approval; and it’s making face shields for local hospitals. Loftus emphasized the importance of generating positive news when talking with employees, having them come forward with ideas and driving them through the manufacturing stage.

• HR is dealing with layoffs and backfilling roles. There is some hiring, but the focus is on employees’ families with people displaced by the pandemic.

Both panelists noted supply issues.

On the outbound side, Darby said CME is working with a number of companies ramping up production of medical gear to supply frontline workers and industry.

Inbound, many companies with supply links to China have already realized the need to make adjustments, Darby said.

Loftus suggested companies be less reliant on single sources and do a complete review in the coming months to find better ways to protect themselves and their supply chains. He is hearing more talk about continental supply chains rather than global. But he said that’s something to address as part of a risk management plan.

Listen to the webinar here.