Coronavirus and the effects on production [+ Checklist]

  • Michael Reutter
  • Production

It feels like Germany is currently working completely from the home office because of COVID-19. Even in areas where a home office is not possible, everything is being done to be able to do the work from home. However, there are some professions where it is still not possible. Apart from hospitals and supermarkets, the situation is no different in many production companies. But these are important for the production of food and essential consumer goods that are needed during the Corona pandemic. In this article we give an overview of the causes that can lead to a production stop in times of social distancing and corona virus and how to counteract this, because to be able to take measures it is important to know the reasons that can lead to a production stop.

The following scenarios are conceivable in the Corona crisis:

1. Lack of staff

Due to infection with the coronavirus, fear, lack of mobility or because the children have to be cared for at home, some employees can no longer come to work or only come to work irregularly. In the worst case, they themselves are ill or have to be quarantined for a certain period of time.

2. A case of infection in the company means that the entire production must be quarantined

In this scenario, all production employees are lost at once and have to be replaced to keep production running. The lack of knowledge of employees in important key positions is the main cause of problems. This often cannot be prevented even though these positions are filled several times.

3. Problems in the supply chain

Due to global supply chains and extensive plant closures, certain products and goods are no longer available. This threatens to bring production to a standstill within the company.

4. Lack of orders

Production stops by OEMs and the decline in customer demand mean that many companies are forced to cut back their production.

The reasons for reducing your own production can be many and varied, which is why it is important to communicate openly and honestly with your own employees. Special emphasis should be placed on plans, considerations and measures that serve the long-term protection of employees. After all, it is not only about the direct effects on employees, but also about what measures need to be taken in the company to get through the crisis safely.

Since home office is not possible for production, we have worked out possible measures that can be taken instead and divided them into two categories. The first has the goal of keeping the employees healthy and to take precautions. The other is to ensure that production can be kept running.

Health measures

Systematic increase of hygiene measures

The easiest way to do this is certainly to wash your hands regularly. Timers or other reminders can support the employees. Cyclical disinfection and cleaning rounds can also help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. It is important to use the right disinfectants to kill all pathogens, especially corona viruses. If disinfectants are not available, it is possible to produce them yourself under the guidance of the WHO or at least use normal cleaning agents.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) explains on its website that the surfactants contained in detergents attack the lipid layer of the viruses and thus destroy them. (Source: article in Stuttgarter Nachrichten) Cleaning rounds have to be documented in order to ensure that all critical surfaces such as door handles, machine touch panels or other handles are disinfected or cleaned after each layer. In addition, it is also possible to prove to a public health authority that the duty of care has been fulfilled. It also makes employees feel safer. One way of documenting this would be to keep a (digital) checklist containing all the surfaces to be cleaned. These surfaces can also be provided with small NFC tags, thus simplifying contactless documentation by scanning them after each cleaning process is completed. This ensures that nothing has been forgotten and it is visible when the cleaning was last performed.

Keeping distance

In general, it is important to keep the safety distance to each other also in daily work. Keeping the recommended 1.5 metre distance is difficult in practice, especially in noisy environments. Often technical possibilities can help. This includes, for example, sending voice messages via a mobile device and/or headsets. The distance should also be maintained during the daily “stand-up” to current shop floor topics. It is important to note that each employee continues to contribute despite social distancing and important information is not lost.

Create risk profiles and define measures

Pay particular attention to employees who are classified as a risk group. This includes, for example, older, chronically ill people or people with certain pre-existing conditions. Make a list (in close consultation with the works council) of the risk profile of employees in critical positions. Not only age or previous illnesses play a role here, but also external factors that increase the risk of infection. These include, for example, the distance to work and whether people use public transport to get to work. Obvious points, such as travel to coronavirus risk areas or contact with the sick, also play a role. Subsequently, it should be examined whether it is possible to reduce the risk for employees. This is done, for example, by providing protective equipment or paid taxi rides. Another possibility to protect employees would be to give them paid time off in order to avoid longer downtimes.

Splitting up into small groups of employees

Another important measure is to reduce the risk of pathogens spreading within the company. This is best achieved by reducing the size and demarcation of employee groups. For example, by dividing production employees into groups, isolating them from the rest of the company as far as possible and working autonomously. Direct contact between people in different groups or areas should also be more strongly avoided in the period of the corona pandemic. Organisational separation of groups ensures that people do not come too close to each other in closed rooms by accident, for example by making common rooms such as washrooms or toilets available only for specific groups, even during a shift. One possibility would be to colour-coded rooms and teams. In concrete terms, the close exchange between different trades, e.g. machine operators and maintenance staff as well as logistics staff, should also be minimised. Instead, if possible, communication should be via pictures, voice messages or notes. In this way, knowledge is stored as a by-product and can be made available to employees afterwards.

Longer breaks between shifts

In order to prevent infection also between the layers, it should be ensured that they are separated in time. This can be done, for example, by taking a break of 20 minutes or more between shifts. The time interval should be long enough to allow the employees enough time to change over and the cleaning for the next shift can be completely done. The challenge here is that important information can no longer be exchanged directly between employees, because the classic shift handover does not take place as usual. However, this information could be made available to everyone, for example, by means of a digital machine diary or voice notes.

Measures to allow production to continue

Open and clear communication

To reduce the fear of the employees in the company it is important to maintain good and open communication. Communicate openly what measures have been taken to protect employees. To avoid the emergence of rumours, explain how Corona cases are handled and how it is prevented from spreading within the company. Provide your managers in production with regular updates and discuss them with employees. Give your employees the opportunity to express their fears but also ideas on how to make work safer and record them either digitally or by hand. This can be done, for example, anonymously via a “corona box”, in which suggestions and concerns can be posted. A bulletin board can contribute to visibility about measures and solutions. Even if some points may only serve to reassure employees, it helps to promote employee acceptance. One possibility would be to include it in shop floor management meetings, where not only production-specific topics are discussed.

Flexible shifts and schedules

Since children can no longer be accommodated in schools, kindergartens or any other form of care, many parents are faced with a challenge. Since grandparents are not able to help out either, the situation becomes even worse. Especially single fathers and mothers have to struggle with it.
Talk to parents in companies and clarify the current situation with them. Reorganise shift work. It may help if at least one parent can stay at home with the children. If this is not possible, open and understanding communication helps to get through the situation. If only overtime or holidays can help, it is still necessary to reschedule the shift.

Improved documentation for better knowledge transfer

Due to the pandemic, it is possible that some production employees may also be absent. The reason may be that employees are in quarantine as a precaution, are ill or have to look after family members. It is important to ensure that production is maintained even with a small number of employees. Encourage your colleagues and employees to document more and to write down knowledge, e.g. via a digital shift log. Ensure that technologies are used that allow employees to work alone (e.g., single worker protection features).

Making contacts traceable

If a production facility is closed down by order of the health authorities, this poses great challenges for companies.
Such a closure can be avoided and only happens if, for example, an infection chain in production cannot be proven or too many employees fall ill at the same time. Thus, the persons who work in the mentioned small groups should be documented and it should be made comprehensible with which other employees in the company there was direct contact. Through this documentation and the above mentioned further measures, it can be proven what has been done to protect the employees and what is being done to limit the spread within the company. In an emergency plan it should be recorded how the group members can be reached as quickly as possible if an employee falls ill and which employees could replace this shift.

Agile Supply Chain

The longer the crisis lasts and the longer productions remain closed, the more often it can happen that materials or preliminary products are not available. The closely networked supply chain has gaps and thus leads to a production stop. In order to secure new suppliers in the short term, platforms such as Scoutbee or Kreatize could support purchasing so that production can continue to deliver.

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Even if the pandemic makes it difficult to continue production, there are some implementable measures to protect the health of the employees as well as measures to ensure continued production.

Even if a lack of orders means that you have less to do, take the opportunity to complete tasks that have been left unfinished for a longer period of time. Try to tackle innovative topics, because now you have the time to get your production ready for the next big job.

We would be pleased to know what measures you have taken and how you deal with them. Just contact us, we can certainly help you to implement some measures with our intelligent software solution.

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