Across the world, manufacturing companies are experiencing a climbing rate of employee absences, workplace illness, workers sick on the job site, entire factory shutdowns, assembly line stalls, and workplace closures due to disease among workers. The simple truth is, workers are getting sick more often, and it’s affecting not only workforce morale but company productivity as well.
There are a few principles to setting up a safe workplace that can be applied to prevent the potential spread of bacteria, viruses, and other potentially dangerous microorganisms.
The more air that can circulate within the workplace, the less likely workers are to breathe each other’s air, and the less likely airborne germs are to travel from worker to worker.
Goggles and face masks would also be wise. Remember, viruses and bacteria enter mostly through bodily orifices, (eyes, mouth, nose, ears, open cuts, etc.) Providing basic protection to those areas for each worker can significantly reduce the spread of infection.
Things can get pretty crammed right before or right after a shift, but entrances and exits to a manufacturing plant should allow for at least six feet of space between each worker at all times. One way to implement this would be to draw or paint markings on the ground in six foot increments. The goal here is to reduce person-to-person contact as much as possible.
Medical screening in the workplace is a must. Preventive screening is one of the most efficient ways to maintain a healthy and productive workforce. Such can be done in many ways, but a “preventive test” is usually sufficient. A preventive test is defined simply as any screening effort taken to detect illness in each employee before such illness spreads to other workers.
Ideally, there would be at least one employee, (preferably an in-house nurse or physician), who takes the temperature of each employee every day before that employee’s shift. This can be done with a simple device that measures body temperature by touching the device to the individual’s forehead. Doing so is a fast and easy way of determining which workers are safe to work and which ones should be sent home.
Workers should be asked a series of questions, a brief health questionnaire of sorts, to determine if they’ve had any other non-optimum symptoms or virus symptoms. Remember, the goal is to prevent workers who are already sick from spreading their illness to other workers.
Unfortunately, manufacturing centers will have to make some changes to their job culture, mainly in how employees interact with each other. While it is true that employees should no longer shake hands, high five, hug, pat each other on the back, or work within six feet of each other, other changes will have to be made to preserve workplace morale and employee camaraderie. After all, manufacturing workers still need to feel like a team, like a cohesive group, even if they cannot be physically close to each other.
One way to create a safe workplace that is still a fun and rewarding workplace is to have meetings and employee interactions during break times, before shifts, and after shifts. These can be times where workers can share ideas, voice their concerns, make jokes, and generally interact with their co-workers and supervisors. Another good policy is to implement an effective safety meeting at the start of each shift. That way, the priorities of workplace safety and of helping to keep employees healthy are reinforced daily.
There is a bit of a stigma attached to sick days policy, mandatory sick leave, and various forms of vacation and sick leave policy. And while this is not the place to comment or debate on vacation policy specifically, there is something to be said for the value of sick leave and the importance of encouraging employees to stay at home when they are sick. Some regions even have laws against working while sick.
When a worker has been identified as being sick (see the preventive screening measures discussed above), that worker needs to be ordered to stay at home, to take care of himself or herself, and to get well before coming back to work. To encourage workers to do this, workers should be paid for their sick time. Workers need to be given peace of mind. They need to know that they are still getting paid when they are ill and recovering at home. This policy acts as a deterrent. It will prevent workers from coming into work when they are sick. And that will, in turn, prevent other coworkers from getting sick.
It is much more affordable for a manufacturing corporation to pay one or two workers for sick leave per month than to lose a significant amount of productivity due to several employees not working because they are all at home with an illness they contracted from one worker who didn't stay at home when he was sick.
What manufacturing corporations need to understand about paid sick leave is that paying workers to stay home when sick is an investment in a healthy workforce. If workers do not receive their pay when they are at home sick, they will be tempted to come into work to continue making money. But if they do that, they threaten the health of the other workers, thus further damaging workplace productivity and employee morale. Paid sick leave is more beneficial to employers in the long run because it ensures a safe, protected, and healthy workforce.
Manufacturing companies should add a sub-department to their HR that offers the workforce a unique email address and phone number to call to report illness, poorly-maintained sections of the workplace, unhygienic work areas, potentially contaminated workstations, etc.
HR should also post online updates on the health, productivity, and overall morale of the workplace/workforce in the HR Dashboard. The goal here is to make work feel like a team effort, and that every employee is involved in making the workplace a rewarding, safe, fun, and illness-free work environment.
Keep in mind that most OSHA healthcare rules insist that businesses have specific policies in place for providing sick leave to workers who are too ill to work or who are contagious. Again, the goal here is to create a workforce where every worker is a safe worker. That is impossible if workers are coming in for their shifts sick or contagious.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WORKFORCE IS PRIORITY NUMBER ONE FOR MANUFACTURING COMPANIES and all places of employment for that matter. Sometimes, setting up health systems, sanitation centers, screening programs, workplace policy, and other illness prevention measures is tricky.