We’re living through unprecedented circumstances as COVID-19 continues to impact every area of life, in every country, on every continent. These last few months have been game-changers, and the changes and impacts continue to unfold as the pandemic persists.

The situation, the scientific consensus, and the best practices continue to evolve. Recommendations and requirements are bound to change, but manufacturers have to do the best they can to protect their workers, their customers and their business.

Keeping Employees Safe during the Pandemic

It’s critical to stay abreast of compliance standards, employee safety protocols, and regulations imposed to protect individual health during the pandemic.

The General Duty Clause of OSHA requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. There are several OSHA-approved plans providing occupational safety and health programs that are state-specific. All businesses should monitor both state and federal requirements and maintain compliance. OSHA has issued Guidance on
Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic
, available online, which has some useful information.

Train employees to adhere diligently to recommended prevention measures as described by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Cultivate a company culture that values personal safety and responsibility. Make sure your HR policy encourages employees to take paid sick leave and time off so the sick aren’t tempted to come to work.

Institute pandemic-oriented training to ensure all employees and management are on the same page. Address airborne contaminants, biological hazards and infectious disease.

Adjust routines to practice social distancing measures. Forbid visitors to the shop floor, create distance between workers, extend work hours, and institute staggered scheduling and breaks. Enlist technology for virtual training and remote communications whenever possible.

Keeping Operations Flowing during the Pandemic

Identify your supply chain for any potentially weak links, paying particular attention to regions heavily affected by the Coronavirus. Have alternate sources lined up and prepare to be nimble.

Prepare for major global supply chain disruptions. Supply and demand have never been more chaotic and unpredictable.

Now’s the time to pursue those automation technologies which piqued your curiosity, pre-COVID. Whether it’s robotics, the industrial IoT (Internet of Things) or autonomous

materials movement, automation is an excellent tool to reduce worker density throughout the plant. However, don’t let your sense of urgency cause you to neglect cyber security issues.

Evaluate functions for outsourcing. If IT can move to the cloud, or some in-house functions can be delegated to contractors, you can keep people safer and possibly reduce operating costs.

Financial Strategies during the Pandemic

It’s time to examine your financial reserves. Can you weather the storm? Or perhaps even capitalize on the uncertainty?

Anticipate a low-revenue environment and unpredictable sourcing. How can you best draw on cash flow reserves, loans, or revolving credit to support operations? Explore whether debt can be refinanced or underperforming assets can be liquidated.

Keep your ear to the ground for government-provided financial assistance. Ways the government may support business include providing short-term funding, reducing the tax burden, offering lines of credit, reducing infrastructure costs, implementing tax incentives and/or tax deferrals, and more.

Pandemic Strategy

Plan strategically. This is a time when managers need to really employ their skills at integrating both details and big picture issues. Consider that operations are bound to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in terms of regulations, taxes, supply chain and operations.

Finally, remember that the playing field is level in one respect at least: We’re all facing uncertain terrain for the next few quarters at least. Seize the challenge and do your best.