It has been more than six months since the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic were reported in the United States. Yet, the topic continues to be a pressing challenge for organizations, and particularly for their EHS teams, across the world. On a recent ProcessMAP EHS leadership virtual roundtable on the topic of COVID-19, Jessica Jannaman, Executive Director of EHS & Quality for Global Automotive Systems shared her company’s experience with a COVID-19 hot spot in a manufacturing facility. When COVID-19 impacts a plant, there are numerous challenges for EHS professionals to consider:
- Protecting and preventing spread
- Keeping identity private
- Follow up with friends, family and coworkers
- Reacting quickly
- Avoiding production impact
When a COVID-19 case occurs, the first priority is to protect and prevent the spread. If one employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, the employer needs to look at the possibilities of isolation and disinfection immediately. A manufacturing environment is very much its own little community, and oftentimes, people will talk. It is important to keep the identity of the infected employee private, which can be a challenge when other employees begin to ask about whether a coworker has contracted COVID-19. They are concerned that they, themselves, may be at risk or might have been inadvertently got exposed to the virus. This leads to tracing, which can involve the impacted employee’s coworkers, friends and family members. While Global Automotive Systems has worked very hard to keep the workplace safe, and the safety team did a great deal of preparation towards protecting employees from COVID-19 in the workplace, the team realized they can’t always control what employees do outside of the workplace. The other concern for the safety team is striking a balance between production impact and panic. From a production impact, the team wants to protect people, which means you might need to remove people from the plant, but at the same time, companies need people to work. It’s also important not to cause other employees to panic.
Incident Case Study
Within Global Automotive Systems, the Safety team learned that one of their employees who works in a particular facility tested positive for COVID-19 over the previous weekend. The employee notified Global Automotive Systems’ HR department and a quick response test indicated the employee was positive. The safety team immediately worked to identify any employees who would have been in direct contact with the infected employee. These were coworkers who were directly exposed to the infected employee, in this instance, in a small die room.
Even though the company ventilates and sanitizes work areas, three employees had been in direct contact with the infected employee and were considered at risk. An additional 80 employees were considered indirect contact employees, because they all visited the same break room, rest rooms and general areas of the plant. Through contact tracing, the safety team was able to identify and notify these additional employees about the possibility of exposure. The team immediately quarantined those employees and made sure that they went to be tested as quickly as possible.
Next, the safety team worked to identify other areas in the plant where indirect exposure was possible. These locations included a break room, restrooms, common areas, etc. The team took direct countermeasures to prevent exposure. They needed to consider how recently the infected employee visited those hot-spot areas, what did they do, with whom they interacted, on what shift did the interaction occur, in which break area did the interaction take place, and so on. Gathering all those details is very important in making the determination of whether more employees needed to quarantine. Ideally, the company did not want to shut down the entire facility. From a manufacturing aspect, it is critical to prevent the spread and exposure enough to where the team could isolate it, and then prevent the others from exposure and possibly contracting COVID-19 as well.
The safety team utilized a map of the manufacturing plant to color-code areas of the plant where potential exposure occurred. They identified areas of direct exposure in red, and studied which employees would have been in that area having direct contact with the infected employee. They looked at groups of employees in terms of the break times and the shifts, and some of the different interactions that may have occurred when employees visited the break rooms or the restrooms. As a result of this analysis, the team was able to identify those that had no contact exposure or may have had little to no interaction at all in the areas from which the isolated individuals may have been exposed.
This was important because it allowed the safety team to capture the incidents for each one of the employees and capture the information necessary from a case management aspect for follow-ups. The team conducted surveys, they are closely monitoring and doing temperature checks for this facility. The team utilized ProcessMAP‘s Injury and Illness management capabilities of the Incident Management solution. They also leveraged the interaction with the facility map, marking the hotspots or where potential case exposures might have occurred. Gathering all this information was critically important, looking at the areas, the times and the days employees were gathered together, and being able to classify some of those clusters of the employees helped with isolation and prevention.
The company also worked to disinfect and decontaminate the plant, conducting a full sweep of the facility and making sure that any areas where COVID-19 exposure could have occurred were fully sanitized.
Other steps towards mitigating the spread of COVID-19 within the plant included:
- Spreading out production shifts
- Increasing breaks with smaller groups
- Separating employees further
- Daily follow up beyond screening
- Communicating with families without getting too invasive
Global Automotive Systems had two positive cases of the employees that were directly exposed. They were able to isolate and limit the spread successfully. The experience taught the safety team new lessons learned in terms of how the safety team can even further improve their plan from an administrative standpoint. Utilizing the “Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) model, the team was able to:
- Plan - further spread shifts and breaks
- Do - conducting in-depth screening, training and decontamination, reminding employees to reinforce and further make positive changes
- Check - ensure processes are followed, and then to communicate those processes to other locations
- Act - conduct tracing and adjust the protocol to ensure that the safety team was actually completing what they targeted, planned and intended to do
As our global customers continue to return their employees to work, and take steps to keep their employees safe, ProcessMAP solutions are at work to support every step in the cycle. To learn more about how ProcessMAP can help you manage COVID-19 and return to work programs, sign up for a free trial today!