How Do You Implement Social Distancing Policies in Factory and Plant Settings?

Since the early spring, businesses in many industries have been able to switch operations from office-based to home-based. However, in the manufacturing industry, remote working is not an option for employees involved in production. So how do you implement social distancing policies in factory and plant settings in order to keep employees safe?

The first thing to determine is what your social distancing policies should consist of. While the CDC and many state governments recommend a minimum distance between employees of at least six feet, this is not always physically possible in production environments. Furthermore, the six feet “rule” is based on nineteenth century science; since when it has been found aerosols of the virus can travel more than twenty-five feet – or even further when people are shouting, singing, or exercising.

It is also the case social distancing alone is not an effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In a scientific experiment conducted in Spain, researchers found that one carrier in a room of six socially-distanced people can infect the other five occupants within four hours due to airborne transmission. Even when all six occupants were wearing masks, researchers calculated that four of the occupants would be infected after four hours because of the prolonged exposure.

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The infection rate only dropped to below one person when all six occupants were socially-distanced, all six occupants were wearing masks, the room was adequately ventilated, and the length of exposure was reduced by half to two hours. The scientific experiment was repeated in a school classroom scenario and a bar scenario with similar results – indicating the difficulty businesses have implementing effective social distance policies in factory and plant settings.

The CDC's Guidance for Social Distancing in the Manufacturing Industry

Because it is not possible to develop “one-size-fits-all” guidance for social distancing in the manufacturing industry, the advice provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is limited. The CDC suggests businesses should conduct risk assessments in order to assess job hazards for the feasibility of engineering controls, ensure ventilation and water systems are operating properly, and alter workspaces to maintain social distancing.

Beyond that guidance, the CDC does not have in-depth recommendations for manufacturing facilities. However, by researching alternate sources, it is possible to find many best practices for maintaining social distancing in factory and plant settings. More practical solutions include:

  • Staggering shifts to avoid bottlenecks when employees arrive and leave.
  • Increasing the number of entrances and exits to further reduce congestion.
  • Introducing one-way systems to control traffic flows around the factory or manufacturing plant.
  • Erecting physical segregation barriers between employees on production lines and break areas.
  • Reconfiguring production lines so employees are working side-by-side rather than face-to-face.
  • Alternating breaks to reduce the number of employees working on production lines at any one time.

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It is generally recommended these measures are introduced along with daily health checks, with a requirement for employees to wear face coverings, and – where possible – with individual equipment for each employee so that tools, stationary, and personal protective do not have to be shared. There should also be sanitization stations located around the factory or manufacturing plant, and common areas should be cleaned frequently to reduce the spread of the disease.

Education and Communication: Common Themes Throughout

Two common themes running throughout practically every source of information about social distancing in the workplace is the importance of educating employees why social distancing is necessary and frequently reminding them to follow social distancing policies. There are many online resources explaining the importance of social distancing, but probably the following video released by the Ohio Department of Health has been the most effective at communicating the message.

 

With regards to reminding employees to follow social distancing policies, most sources suggest floor markings and wall posters. However, like health and safety signage, employees can become oblivious to their presence over time. A better solution is to communicate frequent reminders via PA systems or digital signage; or better still via SMS text, as repetitive text messages do not have the same “white noise” effect as PA systems and digital signage and are more likely to be read.

The Best Workplace Communication Platform for Social Distancing Reminders

Although a mass communication solution is most commonly used to alert employees to the risk of danger, easy-to-use SMS templates and scheduling capabilities make workplace communication platforms extremely useful for social distancing reminders. System administrators only have to write one social distancing template, and then schedule the time(s) for reminder(s) to be sent. SMS text messages are then delivered simultaneously at the schedule time(s) to every employee.

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Where split or staggered shifts are in operation, it is possible to schedule the reminders for different times for different groups of employees. It is also possible for employees to select the language in which they would like to receive the reminders, and for system administrators to monitor open rates through the platform's GUI. If appropriate, a mass notification solution can also be integrated with PA and digital signage systems to strengthen the impact of each social distancing reminder.

Universal - Corporate Manufacturing Solution

Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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