Manufacturing safety standards have always been a priority among top contract manufacturers, but it is an especially important topic following the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, not only do manufacturers have to consider the usual safety standards—such as protecting workers while they operate potentially hazardous equipment—but manufacturers also have to take steps to protect their workers from infectious diseases.
While these new manufacturing safety standards are at the top of everyone’s minds as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, these standards will likely continue to play an important role in manufacturing for years to come, long after the worst of the pandemic is over. This is why it’s important to prepare for this new reality today. Contract manufacturers that take these COVID-19 standards seriously can protect the health and safety of their employees and offer their clients greater peace of mind as well.
How Manufacturing Safety Standards Changed in 2020
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a set of new manufacturing safety guidelines in 2020 in direct response to COVID-19. The administration suggests that all manufacturers:
1. Ask their non-essential workers to stay home whenever possible or work remotely.
2. Stagger manufacturing shifts so fewer workers are on-site at any given time.
3. Maintain at least six feet of distance between workers whenever possible.
4. In situations where social distancing can’t be implemented, install barriers between workers, or limit their exposure time in these situations.
5. Provide protective clothing (including face masks) to workers and train them on how to wear this protective gear properly.
6. Provide enough tools and equipment so workers don’t have to share these items, if possible.
7. Sanitize workstations and equipment with Environmental Protection Agency-approved chemicals from List N (which effectively kill most COVID-19 pathogens).
8. Provide sanitation stations for workers, including access to clean water, soap, and hand sanitizer.
9. Stay up to date with the latest information on COVID-19 and encourage workers to immediately flag any safety concerns they have.
It can be challenging to implement all of these changes in the manufacturing industry, especially on such short notice. Manufacturers typically have a skilled staff of equipment operators and engineers who have very refined workflows designed to optimize the product development process. Some of these workflows had to be interrupted in response to COVID-19 so engineers and operators could perform their tasks safely. Moreover, some equipment requires two or more workers to operate, so these tasks had to be modified to make sure workers followed social distancing guidelines.
However, despite these challenges, the industry’s top manufacturers not only met all of these standards, but they also went above and beyond to keep their workers and clients safe during the pandemic. For these manufacturers, these safety measures weren’t optional—their number one priority was to protect the health of their employees, no matter the cost.
What Top Manufacturers Are Doing to Keep Employees Safe
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear which manufacturers prioritize worker safety. Even though many infection prevention tips from OSHA are suggestions rather than strict regulations, some manufacturers took these guidelines to heart and followed every possible step they could to limit their employees’ exposure to infectious pathogens on-site.
For example, Pacific Research Labs not only follows every guideline outlined by OSHA, but we also take additional steps to protect our employees, including:
- Early adoption of new manufacturing safety standards
- Fast responses to potential safety threats
- Long term safety measures that will continue to keep employees safe into the future
Adoption of New Manufacturing Safety Standards
Our plant was among the first in Washington State to implement new COVID-19 safety standards, as we were one of the few to be declared an essential service during the state’s “Stay Home and Stay Safe” initiative. Long before this, however, we were already taking extra precautions to sanitize and deep clean the plant on a routine basis, starting as early as January 2020 when news of the virus first made the rounds. We also already had hand-sanitizing stations at every entrance to the plant.
Later, on March 24, 2020, Washington State mandated that all non-essential businesses temporarily shut down for 14 days to limit worker and customer exposure to COVID-19 pathogens. We successfully appealed to the Washington State Department of Commerce to remain operational for our clients in the healthcare industry, as they still needed the medical equipment we fabricated.
On March 30, 2020, we began production again, but with a very small crew of essential workers. We asked the majority of our employees to work from home and the few employees who came to the plant to work were required to follow strict social distancing at all times and take advantage of the hand sanitizing stations located in all common areas and work areas.
Our plant continues to follow these manufacturing safety standards today. Even after Washington State allowed non-essential businesses to operate again, we maintain the smallest staff possible inside of the plant and stagger shifts, so we can remain six feet apart or more at all times. Many of our employees still work remotely, including our CAD designers. Our early adoption of these guidelines means that we’ve had time to refine our short-run manufacturing process in response to this crisis.
Fast Responses to Potential Safety Threats
In addition to our preventative measures, Pacific Research Labs also has experience responding quickly to health safety risks. On March 10, 2020, during the early stages of the global pandemic in the United States, one of our temporary employees tested positive for COVID-19. The employee’s last day at our plant was on March 6, and that worker had a relatively isolated workstation at the plant. However, we didn’t want to take any chances with the health of our other employees and decided to take proactive steps.
We immediately contacted King County public health authorities who advised us to ask nine of our employees to quarantine at home for 14 days, as they had been in contact with the temporary employee who tested positive. Not only did we continue to pay these employees for the entirety of their quarantine, but we also contacted them every day to make sure they were healthy and coping well. This quick action was important for the health of our workers. None of those employees tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after their 14-day quarantine was over.
We now have experience and knowledge on how to respond to situations like this in the future. With this protocol in place, we can quickly respond to any other risks that threaten the health and safety of our employees.
Long Term Safety Measures
Moving forward, we will continue to ask employees to socially distance at work whenever possible and sanitize their hands and work stations frequently. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet, and we will likely continue to feel its effects many years after the initial outbreak. Knowing this, Pacific Research Labs plans on maintaining all of the latest OSHA manufacturing safety standards indefinitely.
One other way our plant is supporting the health of workers is by contributing to projects related to COVID-19 treatments. For example, we are working with Texas Children’s Hospital to develop an Airway/Respiratory Containment (ARC) System to protect healthcare workers. Our goal is to help design and manufacture medical products like this in the future, so we can better respond to COVID-19 and similar infectious diseases.
Why You Should Hire Manufacturers That Prioritize Safety
Manufacturing safety standards don’t just matter for manufacturers and their workers. They should also matter to clients. Here are some of the ways you can, directly and indirectly, benefit from hiring manufacturers that take safety guidelines seriously.
- Less downtime: When manufacturers follow safety protocols, they are less likely to shut down completely in an emergency. It is much safer and easier to prevent the spread of pathogens in a plant than it is to respond to an active outbreak that requires the plant to shut down.
- Essential services: Manufacturers with experience designing and fabricating medical products and training materials understand how important sanitation procedures are. They can continue to provide essential services during a crisis when they follow these protocols.
- Peace of mind: Clients know that the plant is following all possible manufacturing safety standards, which means less liability for everyone involved. The client will receive quality products that are made under sanitary conditions.
- Community support: Clients can feel good about hiring a manufacturer that cares for their employees and the community. Happy and healthy employees produce high-quality work. As an employee-owned company, Pacific Research Labs ensures that all of its employees are well-cared-for, particularly during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’re facing a new reality when it comes to manufacturing safety standards. There is likely no going back to the way things were before the pandemic. This is why we’re identifying long term solutions that protect our workers while producing high-quality products for our clients. With these new measures in place, we’ll continue to support the community and our clients, especially in times when they need it most.
PRL’s engineers have dozens of manufacturing options available to help you solve any challenge facing your product: CNC machining, custom tooling, 3D printing, thermoplastic molding, reverse engineering, and more. No matter what stage your product is currently at, we can create it and optimize it for manufacturing.