How the automotive sector can safely return to the workplace
05 July 2021
The automotive sector must safely return to the workplace as COVID-19 restrictions gradually loosen.
Due to the dangers posed by the virus, additional health and safety risks must be safeguarded against to ensure a safe working environment. Back in 2020, we saw early examples of companies addressing these risks as it was reported that FORD, GM, FCA and Tesla were bringing back factory workers to their premises.
Following on from the actions of these automotive companies - enhancing cleaning, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and enforcing social distancing - this blog will outline how you should address the following:
- The protection of people from coronavirus
- The safe use of all machinery and equipment
- An effective return to the automotive workspace
Given the supply chain issues the automotive sector has experienced due to lockdowns across the globe, these steps provide a measured approach to help avoid the need for another full lock-down within your organisation.
Protecting people from COVID-19
The safety of people who are affiliated with your organisation is of vital importance. For this reason, the initial step you should take is to decide the order in which employees return to work in line with the tasks that should be prioritised.
The safeguarding you implement should therefore consist of the following:
You should aim to reduce the number of workers on site to those who are considered essential. This can be achieved by staggering shifts or working patterns, or alternatively, allocate shift teams to reduce social interaction. Regardless, these safeguarding methods will assist in ensuring safe maintenance and operation of your premises.
In addition, you should reduce physical interaction for machinery and process options, shift handover, maintenance and intervention tasks. Common methods often include adopting handover log sheets and remote telephone calls.
Managing user numbers
Certain areas within your premises may require partition to limit occupancy or work activity to maintain social distancing. These are often referred to as ‘work zones’ and can be enforced in areas including large open plan offices, workshops and communal areas.
Social distancing can be encouraged by limiting the number of people who use certain equipment at the same time including:
- Passenger lifts
- Temporary suspended access platforms e.g., construction hoists and painters’ cradles
- Multi-user mobile plants e.g., mobile elevated work platforms and scissor lifts
Masks and general hygiene
It is equally important to promote accountability across an entire organisation. For this reason, employees should take responsibility for ensuring that their working areas are safe. The most common safeguarding method for this is to wear a mask in public areas to reduce the chances of transmitting COVID-19. Other simple measures that should be standard practice include:
- Hand washing/sanitising where required
- Disinfecting work surfaces and equipment
- Avoiding the sharing of equipment where possible (unless disinfected)
- Adhering to social distancing (2 metres apart)
If machinery has been dormant for an extended period, it can create additional risks that you must safeguard against before restarting operations. This inactivity can degrade the condition of machinery with an increase of corrosion caused by rust. From this point, you can experience issues with machinery parts which can then create a dangerous working environment.
To avoid any long-term issues, it is strongly recommended that you adhere to the following processes:
Inspection and maintenance
It would be wise to perform a detailed assessment of your machinery prior to starting production. Firstly, you should conduct a visual check of the structural framework of your equipment to ensure that the condition of the bolted joints, bonded structure, cast components and paint are to the required standard.
Secondly, you should closely examine for any signs of rust, delayering or deformation using touch and smell. It is also advisable to run a functional test and observe whether any moving parts are in distress while a machine is operating.
Once you have completed the inspection, it is important to take corrective action of the physical condition of machinery before operation. This maintenance will ensure the machinery’s safety, reliability and productivity.
You should check that all machines were initially shut down correctly before ensuring that all safety devices and process operations sequence correctly and function reliably. For this to be achieved, you should:
- Not rely on full reassurance of safety and process control devices until recommissioning is complete
- Produce a written recommissioning plan that identifies the hazards and the correct method for the work to be completed
- Assign the work to the correct people
- Ensure that a competent engineer devises written instructions that can be easily understood
- Ensure that appropriate supervision is in place
The automotive industry has faced its challenges during the pandemic, but it isn’t alone. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact across the entire manufacturing sector. For more information on how to safely return to the workplace, read our 4-step guide.
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