Food processors and manufacturers around the globe are being tested by the new realities of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Not only are they challenged to maintain some sort of regular operations to meet consumer demand, but they are also faced with employee health and safety issues never experienced before.
Fortunately, there are solutions available to address the need for social distancing in food processing and distribution environments. Here are some of the ways facilities can better their working environments for employees without sacrificing productivity or risking food quality.
Social distancing readiness in operational design:
· Maintain separation of transport drivers and material transfer personnel
· Reduce infiltration of external contaminants
· Provide interior separation at work stations, break rooms, etc.
· Deploy better operational oversight, surveillance systems and processes
Existing OSHA standards may apply to protecting workers from exposure and infection. Consider the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, 29 USC 654(a)(1), which requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Environmental control and separation at the loading dock
At loading docks around the world, truck drivers have been opening swing doors in the drive approach before backing up to the building for ages. In today’s new world, exposing the contents of a truck to the external environment like this seems unsafe and opens you up to possible contamination.
There is loading dock equipment specifically designed to address this situation in a “drive-through” dock design. Using a vertical storing loading dock leveler, along with a special dock shelter, vehicle restraint and integrated dock controls, facilities can allow trailer doors to swing open into the plant, once the truck has finished backing up and is restrained to the dock. This eliminates the opportunity for outside contaminants to come in contact with the cargo, putting the company in the driver’s seat when it comes to safeguarding product and employees. Facilities can take it a step further by installing permanent or sliding partitions or enclosing the loading dock area with curtain enclosures.
Drive-through dock design has already become widely accepted across the food industry. However, now is the time to implement such a setup if an operation doesn’t have one currently.
While the loading dock is the first line of defense against bringing in contaminants, there are options to consider inside the facility, as well.
Environmental control and separation inside the plant or warehouse
Physical barriers, whether in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE) or sneeze guards, are in high demand. The needs of a manufacturing environment present different and bigger challenges. The products once thought of as a way to segment work processes or keep moving machines and people apart are also a solution for employee separation during the work day.
Industrial curtain walls are a flexible and customizable way to separate works spaces, help control air particulate, and create external visitor entry points and more. Integrate high-speed doors with curtain walls for controlled access to these areas to gain even more benefits through distancing.
Safety barriers have long been the standard for separating and protecting people from material handling equipment and production areas. While that remains true, barriers can also be used to create work spaces, break areas or any other space that requires maintaining distances between people. At the loading dock and inside the plant, separation means protection. Installing warehouse guard rails provides a true physical barrier, and they are available in a variety of materials and accessibility options.
Implementing these physical tools can be an excellent way to foster proper distancing efforts in the short term for a facility while providing additional safety measures going forward. Yet, there are even more advanced ways to incorporate existing equipment into long-term solutions to minimize close interactions and promote productivity.
Utilize existing smart equipment with IIoT
Automation is certainly on the upswing, but this is not an overnight transformation. It makes complete sense to initiate projects that can bring automation to a plant. Facilities that have invested in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology are realizing the benefits. Productivity can be improved without the hassle of two-way radios, multiple spreadsheets and logbooks.
Safety at the yard and loading dock can be enhanced with real-time communication and interlocking smart equipment. From a longer-term perspective, it allows decision makers to analyze trends, correlate them with historical data, identify opportunities and, ultimately, implement continuous improvement and behavior modification programs. These data-informed initiatives can enhance energy efficiency, work flow, process and maintenance programs, as well as safety – all of which impact an organization’s bottom line. In today's changing landscape for logistics warehouse operations, the ability to evolve is more important than ever. Now is the time to recognize the positive impact that dock and yard management software can have on logistics operations and invest in this cutting-edge technology.
Facing COVID-19 head on
Significant portions of America’s existing logistics and manufacturing facilities will need to be reimagined because of the pandemic. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, 53% of manufacturers anticipate a change in operations due to COVID-19. This is particularly true in the food industry. Companies need to pay particular attention to the material transfer zone and provide for greater separation and segmentation, as well as enhanced hygiene and cleanliness requirements.
Employees want to work, make a living and support their families. But, they also want to be safe at their jobs. COVID-19 has now added a whole new dimension of health concerns and companies are faced with finding new ways to address this.