What risks face factories post-COVID?

As more employees return to the workplace, we examine the risks facing factories as we emerge from the pandemic.

Over the last year, workplaces have all had to adapt to coronavirus. For most, this has meant allowing staff to work from home, reducing shift sizes or implementing additional safety measures. As we begin to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the pandemic, many employers may be asking what the future looks like and how they can continue to minimise the risk to their operations.

COVID-19 poses a threat to all workplaces, with one infectious employee enough to lead to an outbreak. Factories across the country have primarily found themselves at risk of cases, leading to negative publicity and interrupted output.

Man wearing mask with factory in background

As we enter a new stage, it is essential that plants do everything they can to limit the spread of coronavirus among their staff. This will enable continued productivity, with fewer employees sent home to isolate themselves. It also protects the safety of customers who will be buying the products manufactured on-site.

Eliminating the danger of transmission across your workplace means having a complete understanding of the potential risks and addressing them with adequate measures. In this guide, we have outlined the risks that may face factories and the appropriate solutions.

Number of people on site

One of the first actions to take to reduce the risk of coronavirus in your workplace is to limit the number of people on-site at any one time. By doing so, you enable social distancing by giving people more space. This is particularly apt as many factory workers may be unable to carry out their roles at home unless they are office-based.

Depending on your operations, you may require a certain number of staff to be on-site to facilitate production. If this is the case, consider the minimum number of people necessary to operate and aim to stick to this skeleton staff approach, especially as we await the further easing of restrictions.

Another way that plants can reduce how many employees are on-site is by utilising shift patterns or rotas. Each shift should comprise the minimum number of staff, enabling social distancing to occur while allowing you to meet output targets. By staggering out work patterns in this way, your team members can still come onto site to do their jobs without a high volume of traffic moving through your factory.

You should also try to keep the same employees working in the same shifts, limiting the number of people coming into contact. This also means that if someone in one shift tests positive, it shouldn’t impact your other shifts, minimising the impact on production.

Proximity working

Another challenge that factories will have to overcome is maintaining distance when their operations may require staff to work closely together. This could include operating the same piece of machinery or working on the same line.

Enabling social distancing can be tricky in these environments as, unlike other workplaces, it’s not always easy to redesign the layout of the factory. Some functions may need to happen nearby for efficiency, and some equipment may be built into a specific area and not movable.

You should consider the space you have for social distancing, which may include moving functions to separate factory areas. You might also rearrange workers to allow them to have more space or limit the number of operatives working on one line. Of course, it is essential to ensure they can still do their jobs safely and efficiently while considering this.

Part of your rearranging should also focus on how staff can work back-to-back or side-by-side rather than face-to-face to reduce the risk of transmission.

Two factory workers working apart from each other

If you can’t maintain the recommended two metres of distance, you will need to implement other precautions. This includes requiring staff to wear masks or adding Perspex screens between work areas. By adding in such measures, you can protect staff even if they must work closely.

Finally, provide good ventilation throughout the site. This may include having windows and doors open, if suitable, or using an effective air conditioning system. COVID-19 can spread through aerosol transmission, so introducing fresh air will disperse particles and make it harder for your employees to catch it, even if they must be on site.

Flow of people

Another risk factor to consider is how people move around your site. This includes communal areas, such as walkways, break rooms, canteens and toilets. Your primary concern should be creating a flow of people that prevents crowding in any place.

The best way to control the flow of people is to introduce one-way systems. Mark out separate entrances and exits for key business areas where possible and use signage to indicate how people should walk through the site. Take particular care when considering corridors and stairwells, as this is where people will be most likely to cross paths.

If you can’t incorporate a one-way system with separate entrances and exits, encourage staff to stick to one side (usually the left) of walkways. You might also ask for the wearing of masks in communal areas.

You should aim to cap the number of employees allowed in specific areas at one time, especially in confined spaces like bathrooms or kitchens. Communicate any rules to your staff, so everyone is aware and consider creating space outside rooms so that people can queue to enter.

Cleaning

Cleaning will likely already be part of your operations, especially if you work with food products. However, the pandemic has placed increased attention on the need to be hygienic. It is recommended that all workplaces implement a systematic cleaning regime, with user equipment and workspaces cleaned between shifts.

Cleaner mopping factory floor

Ensure you have adequate cleaning products and assign a team to undertake this role, whether it is an internal or external resource. You should also make sure attention is paid to communal surfaces, such as door handles, machinery and kitchen worktops, as they can be a hotbed for bacteria.

With comprehensive cleaning of areas and equipment during the workday and all premises after every shift, you have a better chance of killing any germs that may be present. These actions will allow you to minimise the potential spread between your staff and future outbreaks are limited.

Worker hygiene

On top of cleaning, your workers must be empowered to maintain good hygiene practices. Poor hand hygiene is a leading culprit in the spread of infection, so making sure that your staff frequently and thoroughly wash their hands can have a significant impact on their health.

Hands should be washed throughout the day, such as at the beginning and end of the day, after bathroom breaks, after eating, and between tasks or handling goods. Hands should also be washed after being coughed or sneezed into. You should ensure you have a good level of handwashing facilities in your workplace to enable staff to access warm water and soap when they need to.

Place reminders across your workplace, such as signs that show staff when to clean their hands and how to do so effectively. This will leave no question as to what is expected from them and help you create a culture of hand hygiene.

If there are times where your staff may be unable to access handwashing facilities, it’s worth providing hand sanitiser as an additional measure. Hand sanitiser use is recommended when hands are not visibly soiled and can be used on the go or during busy periods when workers do not have time to wash, especially if you use a portable solution. By introducing an effective hand sanitiser, you can increase hand hygiene compliance and encourage staff to kill germs throughout the day. This will minimise the threat of COVID-19 across your workforce.

Visitors

As well as accounting for the hazards posed to your staff, you need to consider how to safeguard visitors to your premises, such as delivery drivers and engineers. This means doing what you can to ensure visiting parties do not come to any harm and that they do not bring infection into your workplace.

It is essential to track who is visiting your site and when so that the appropriate people are informed if a case were to emerge. Keep a record of visitor details and try to get them to sign in at a reception area. You might also display a test and trace QR code in your entrances that people can scan with the NHS app.

Once someone new comes into your factory, be sure that they are aware of the protocol to follow. This could include having signage up to display one-way systems or room capacities. You should also alert them if they are expected to wear a face mask. This will prevent them from compromising any measures already in place across your site to protect both their health and your staff.

It’s also worth limiting the number of visitors present at any time, especially if your business experiences a high volume of collections or drop-offs. Keeping tabs on who is expected on-site and when will help you manage the flow of people and stagger arrival times.

Testing

In recent months, COVID-19 testing has become much more accessible to workplaces. Prior to 12th April 2021, employers could apply for free lateral flow tests for their workforce, which present a result within 30 minutes. If you registered by this date, you can receive free tests up until 30th June 2021.

If you missed the registration deadline, there are still options. Some businesses may choose to use a third-party provider to carry out testing on their workforce, which may be advisable if you have many employees who come onto site. You can also buy tests and set up internal testing procedures.

COVID test swab

Alternatively, your staff can undertake tests themselves at home. Lateral flow tests can now be delivered to home addresses via the government website, picked up from a pharmacy or taken at a testing site. Ensure your employees are aware of this service and encourage them to take a test to protect those around them.

If a staff member has a positive result from a test or feels unwell, it’s fundamental that they feel comfortable to take sick leave. This means not being penalised through docked pay or other consequences that may make them unwilling to take time off. By creating an environment where those who are ill stay at home, you can prevent infected persons from spreading disease. 

Training

The threat of COVID-19 is entirely new to us all. Before 2020, most of us had never experienced a pandemic, so it has been a learning curve for employers and employees alike.

Given this, and the fact that coronavirus looks set to stay a risk factor for the foreseeable future, it makes sense to invest time into preparing your staff to adapt their work and minimise the impact in the long run. This is where workforce training comes in.

By undertaking training that explicitly addresses coronavirus and government guidelines, you can teach your workforce to follow best practice and demonstrate the significance of doing so. This will stop them from becoming complacent and enable long-term compliance to measures. Over time, this should prevent outbreaks affecting your business and contribute to the end of lockdowns.

Aim to find a course that is up to date and tailored to your work environment, as well as engaging for your employees. Our training courses have been created in line with current standards and updated guidance, so they may be a fit for your workplace.

In summary

There are several risks that factory managers must consider when determining how to enable staff to undertake their roles safely.

As we continue to move along the coronavirus exit roadmap, more businesses will seek to return to ‘normal’, but they must remember that the threat remains. Undertaking risk assessment and implementing appropriate safeguards can prevent that threat from turning into coronavirus outbreaks and disrupted productivity.

If you need support in adapting your workplace to protect your workforce and enable recovery, we can help. We offer many solutions, including training and hand sanitation products, which can help you reduce the potential ramifications in your factory.

Get in touch today to find out more.