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The first few months of 2020 brought changes to just about every facet of life. While we all hoped that we would quickly be able to eradicate the virus and life would return to normal, that has not been the case. Instead, we are hard at work to find ways to keep business moving forward, while making safety paramount.

Within a rubber recycling plant, safety is always of the utmost importance. Anytime that large machinery is involved, there is a possibility of injury. However, the threats to health and safety of employees have changed, and so the tactics that we use to combat them must change, too. Every facility is different. The ways that each one implements safety measures will be unique to their specific workflow. However, several aspects of workplace safety should be considered during this pandemic.

Sick Leave

First and foremost, remind employees that if they are sick—or if someone in their household is sick—they should stay home. It makes sense. However, it can be difficult for employees to make the right choice, especially if money is tight. People may show up to work even if they have a slight fever or body aches, and they may do the same if they have been exposed to family members who have the virus. After all, there’s no guarantee that they have contracted the virus if they haven’t been tested yet, and money talks. To help with this situation, review your company’s leave policy and see what changes could be made so that employees can stay home or even work remotely when needed.

Documentation

Any business owner will tell you that there are paper trails involved in doing business. Whether it be for tracking payments, shipments, hours worked, or internal communication, there is paper involved. This paper can be a vector for the transmission of illness. We know that the coronavirus (COVID-19) can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. Additionally, employees exchanging documents are more likely to have face-to-face encounters with one another. With these two facts in mind, it makes sense to keep the use of paper records to a minimum. Try using electronic documents where feasible.

Spread Out Employees

One of the most significant risk factors for the spread of illness is the close interaction of people with one another. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health departments recommend that people stay 6 feet apart. This guideline can be challenging to maintain within a recycling facility running with a full complement of employees. You might consider having some employees come into work early, and others work later shifts to cut down on the number of people in the building at any given time. Varying the times of lunch breaks can cut down on the number of people in break or lunchrooms together.

It may also be helpful to post visual cues throughout the workplace to remind employees to keep their distance from each other. Human beings are social creatures, and we tend to stand closer than 6 feet away from someone when we are talking to them. A piece of tape or a line or circle on the floor can be a gentle reminder to stay back to avoid spreading disease even when you may not think you are sick.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Of course, one of the first lines of defense is sanitizing. Researchers have identified cleaning and disinfecting products that effectively kill the coronavirus. These include solutions that contain either bleach or rubbing alcohol. Commonly touched items such as door handles, levers, buttons, or other machinery should be cleaned well and often.

There are many surfaces that multiple employees will touch during the course of a typical business day. However, employees should be discouraged from using the phones, computers, or workstations of others when there is another option available.

Perhaps the best defense that each employee can personally adopt is washing or sanitizing their hands regularly. If you have tried to keep from touching your face for any amount of time, you know how difficult it is. Each time your nose tickles or you get dust in your eye, or you wipe away sweat from your brow, you fail. It’s hard. It is much easier to prevent the virus from spreading by washing your hands regularly. Providing employees with ample opportunities and time to sanitize their hands or wash with soap and water is essential.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The protective equipment that employees typically wear was designed to protect them from the known hazards of the workplace. It may be time to evaluate what changes may be necessary to increase their protection against possible infection. These changes could include wearing a second pair of gloves underneath work gloves; wearing face masks, respirators, or face shields while working; and replacing old PPE that may have holes.

Facilities Upgrades

Studies have shown that viral transmission is more likely to take place indoors, especially in areas with poor ventilation. The virus stays around longer in the stagnant air. Consider the HVAC system in your recycling facility. There may be ways to increase the flow of cleaner air.
Another option would be to upgrade the filtration system in the ducts. High-efficiency filters can improve indoor air quality.

In areas where the recommended distancing cannot be maintained, physical barriers could be installed. Plexiglass and other materials are being used in many public buildings and private businesses to prevent the spread of disease by providing physical separation where proper distancing cannot be maintained.

Infectious Disease Response Plan

If you have a plan for dealing with infectious disease in the workplace, that plan is a great place to start. Review the plan and see where you can make changes to improve safety. If you don’t have policies in place yet, now is the perfect time to start. The steps that you take now will come back to you 10-fold by keeping you and your employees healthy and productive during this time of uncertainty.

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