The Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is the largest current coronavirus hotspot in the United States (over 600 positive cases related to the plant as of today). When states reopen for business, there are going to need to be changes in how businesses operate in terms of physical distancing of employees. Gov. Murphy of NJ is already talking about restaurants operating at about 50% capacity to provide physical distancing of customers and employees (along with employees wearing masks). Many stores have gone to special hours to protect their customers who are at greatest risk.
PPE (masks, etc.) are typically considered by safety professionals as a line of last defense in protecting an individual after exhausting the usage of elimination and substitution.
Elimination involves whether a task has to be done – can the task step be eliminated? That may be no longer performing a task onsite by getting a completed component from another vendor or eliminating areas of the production floor where people may congregate with no value added function. Substitution looks at whether a different process can be used to make the same process safer. Both of these are effective but may take more time to implement – and in the current situation may be difficult with reduced supply chains both nationally and internationally.
Companies will need to look at engineering controls such as physical distancing, protective barriers (such as the plexiglass shields now being used to protect retail cashiers in food stores) and administrative controls such as altering production rates, staggering shifts to reduce employees onsite at a given time, and temperature check points before entering a job site. Both engineering and administrative controls will be impacted by ability to decontaminate areas between shifts. Companies will need to incorporate a combination of these controls.
In practical application, medical offices and personal care offices will need to look at changing how some services are performed (telemedicine becomes a great tool for both substitution and elimination controls – does the person need to be seen or can they be treated by telemedicine) as well as administrative and engineering controls (spacing out appointments, having people wait in cars or changing the waiting areas to increase personal distancing).
There will be a new normal when people return to business. It remains to be seen what that new normal will be for each business. What do you think will be changed at your work site?