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Manufacturing Industry Updates

4 Sanitation Strategies to Help Manufacturers Prevent the Spread of COVID-19

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A year ago, if someone called into work sick, the biggest problem was finding someone to replace their shift. But, with continued concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, finding shift coverage when an employee needs to miss work is just the beginning. Manufacturers across industries now have to grapple with other potential effects of a positive case of COVID-19 in their facilities.

If an employee in a manufacturing facility tests positive for COVID-19, it will most certainly cause a temporary disruption in operations. It could also force production to shut down and potentially damage brand reputation. That’s why facility managers and manufacturers are looking for ways to enhance their sanitation strategies.

Food processors have been combatting pathogens for decades and understand the importance of efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to sanitation. So, what can other manufacturers learn from the food processing industry?

1. Develop a Sanitation Plan

An important strategy in food safety is the development of a system known as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP). This documented plan examines biological, chemical and physical risks while detailing how to prevent them from occurring. Critical Control Points (CCPs) describe events in the production process where steps must be taken to prevent risks because failure to do so would jeopardize the business.

The U.S. Department of Labor has its own guidelines for hazard identification, assessment, prevention and control. Manufacturers can use these guidelines and gain insights from the HACCP process to create sanitation strategies tailored to a certain industry and facility.

As a first step, put together a team to conduct the analysis, including a point person in charge of managing the project. Develop a flow diagram detailing the steps of production as well as the movement of people throughout your building. Then, start looking for places where there’s potential for pathogens to spread.

2. Identify Problem Areas and Hotspots

In food manufacturing, an environmental monitoring program ensures a facility’s food safety plan is effective. This includes collecting samples for testing from areas of the plant that are considered “hot spots” for possible contamination from pathogens that cause foodborne illness.

While manufacturers won’t be testing for microbiological contamination, the idea of classifying hot spots is key in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. Start by identifying high-touch areas on the production floor, including control panels that are used by multiple workers or regularly shared tools and electronic devices.

Unlike food products, manufactured items don’t always need to be produced in a sterile environment. The priority—especially in the wake of Coronavirus—is preventing the spread of germs among employees by providing a sanitary working environment.

For that reason, sanitation efforts must extend beyond the production floor and target surfaces in common areas as well as places with heavy foot traffic. This includes break rooms, restrooms, meeting spaces and locker rooms as well as hallways and lobbies where visitors enter the building.

3. Make Operational Adjustments

For many manufacturers, putting a plan in place has meant implementing social distancing practices on the production line and introducing the use of more personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves. Dividers and curtains are also being used in between those who need to work in close proximity.

But, if the virus enters a facility, a strong sanitation strategy is what will keep it from spreading. Most manufacturing facilities will need to update cleaning and sanitation schedules. That may require adjusting shifts to allow enough time for sanitation crews to do their jobs before new groups enter the building.

As changes are made to address risks, manufacturers will need to clean and sanitize surfaces such and tools like that may not have received much attention before COVID-19 became an issue. Manufacturers should also prioritize sanitizing breakrooms and common areas more frequently and should add handwashing and sanitizing stations that utilize solutions proven to kill viruses similar to COVID-19.

As you begin to implement new sanitation practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, make sure to use the right cleaning products while avoiding possible damage to equipment. Refer to the EPA’s List N, which includes chemical disinfectant products that meet criteria to work against COVID-19. Check manuals and consult with the OEM to find out which products can be used on your equipment.

You’ll also want to educate employees on practices like proper handwashing techniques and how to sanitize shared workstations. Encourage your employees to stay healthy outside of the workplace, as well—when workers take appropriate precautions in their home life, it reduces the possibility of the virus entering the building.

4. Look for Sanitation Automation Opportunities

Unfortunately, properly addressing COVID-19 risks may involve changes that slow production because you have fewer people working or need to space them out to adhere to social distancing guidelines. More than 40% of manufacturers in a PwC survey cited reduced productivity as a top concern connected to the pandemic.

Unlike other sectors, manufacturers are unable to allow employees to work remotely because many tasks must be done on-site. That’s why opportunities to reduce labor needs through automation are becoming more attractive. A recent Forrester study from UiPath found nearly half of businesses surveyed planned to increase automation adoption due to the pandemic.

Sanitation automation technology reduces labor requirements and improves effectiveness. For example, crews often need to clean and sanitize large common areas quickly. Instead of using spray bottles and wipes, equipment such as a mobile sanitation system supports the fast and thorough application of a disinfectant spray.

Yes, manufacturers face a slew of changes and challenges brought on by COVID-19. However, those willing to invest in automation and a safer environment for the people they employ will be poised for success in the future.

With more than 22 years of experience in the food safety and food equipment industry, Bob Ogren knows the value of custom equipment and integrated chemistry. As vice president of Birko equipment, Bob continues to lead the division in developing, servicing and supporting new industry-leading equipment for the protein, further processing and produce markets.

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