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Safety AFTER the Virus

The risks from before are still there, maybe even more so now.

Press conferences from politicians, advice from talking heads, masks at the supermarket, raw hands from incessant washing… Wherever we go, Covid19 demands our attention, and it will continue to do so when we all go back to work. Our assembly plants, warehouses, distribution centers and offices will have to deal with this new risk, but the old risks are still there! How will you stop the Slips, Trips & Falls if employees are afraid to hold the handrail? And if you’ve been shut down, you face a lot of unfamiliar risks at startup. How can you address these old risks in the new environment?

Stick to your Principles!

Yes, we all face new challenges and we’ll have to adjust our procedures, but we must stick to our core principles. I recently spoke to folks in Operations, Finance, Employee Safety and Process Safety. After a deeper examination of the conversations, I realized they shared a few common principles which should look very familiar to anyone who’s been responsible for the safety of their staff:

All injuries and illnesses are preventable: Forget “Injuries are part of the job,” forget about how you used to do things. Instead, think, “How can we prevent the next injury, given the new challenges?”

Management Commitment: Walk the talk. Provide resources. Employees will be on edge throughout this crisis and the aftermath, and if they feel management isn’t providing the resources to operate safely, then beware! Just look at the issues Amazon recently had on Staten Island.

Employee Involvement: The best ideas come from those closest to the work, so take full advantage of your Safety Observations program. If you don’t have one, we can help you get this essential process in place immediately.

My friends at Go-Lean-Six Consulting & Training just had their monthly Lean Peer Group meeting. We were on-line instead of at a member’s facility, but we were still able to discuss best practices and share creative ideas of how to address old risks (and some new ones) in the Post-Covid Era. Here are a few ideas that the Lean Peer Group shared:

Implement 5S: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. (We like to include “Safety” and call it 6S.) 5S is the prerequisite to safe, efficient work. An uncluttered environment is MUCH easier to clean and sanitize, so now’s a great time to do what you really should be doing anyway. Don’t forget, the cleaning includes all the dust on the blinds and the yucky stuff growing in the HVAC filters.

Shift Changes: Shorten the shifts by 15 – 20 minutes. The first shift can finish their work, sanitize (as opposed to just sweep and vacuum) their work-stations, and then leave the building before the second shift arrives. Without the overlap, there are fewer people and it’s easier to keep distance between people.

UV Lights for Conveyers: In Singapore, you’ll see UV sterilizers on the escalator handrails. After every cycle, the rubber handrail gets a blast of UV light that kills all the viruses and bacteria. You can install a similar device on your conveyor belts, especially if your facility handles food.

Pre-shift meetings can be done on the shop floor instead of the cramped conference room. Instead of cramming into the conference rooms - which are often poorly ventilated - conduct your meetings on the shop floor. And you'll get few complaints if the meetings are shorter.

Disinfect your gloves: Your mechanics likely wear gloves. Spray the gloves with Lysol before and after each shift. Very simple, very effective.

Execute the contingency plans: A colleague in the oil business said that they’re working with a minimum complement of employees. He added, “We’re prepared – We run a skeleton crew every Christmas. Now it’s Christmas every day.”

Hold the Handrails: This one is an indicator of how many Slips, Trips & Falls will be on your OSHA 300 Log. Employees will be reluctant to hold the handrail. A colleague told me that at his construction site, they sanitize the handrails three times per day. Problem solved.

And for those of you processing petrochemicals: As my process safety guru Deborah Grubbe reminded me, an idle refinery is just as dangerous as a running refinery, probably even more so.

The old risks are still there, and the best way to get through this crisis and safely get back to work is to double down on your safety principles.

Stay safe folks!

man on yellow front loader loading material onto truck

Gordon Adelsberg is Principal at Adelsberg Consulting and CEO Emeritus of Communication for Geeks. He can be reached at or @WeTeachGeeks.


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