Manufacturing Safely with COVID-19

Helpful tips to keep your people and plant safe

By Nathan Rasmussen

During the initial phase of the pandemic, we have learned some hard lessons about this virus. The most important component in the fight against the spread of SARS-CoV-2 comes down to two words that are often not clear in their intent: Physical Distancing. 

Since we know the virus is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets, this needs to be the focus of our prevention efforts. It can also be picked up through indirect transfer on contaminated surfaces, but the main route of transmission is close contact and ‘breathing on each other.’

Coughing, laughing, sneezing, singing, talking, and breathing are all activities that when performed within two metres of another person carry increased risk of transmitting the virus. To protect our people and operations, we as manufacturers need to identify where in our processes the physical distancing breaks down, and either reduce the exposure or mitigate the impact.

The Impacts of a Positive Test

When a person tests positive for COVID-19 the local health authorities will begin contact tracing for the infected person. This process identifies the individuals that the infected person had close contact with during the period of time when they were infectious. Each of those individuals would then be required to self-isolate for 14 days or until at least 24 hours after their last symptoms are gone.

How many people are we in contact with each day? In two days? Or three days? It’s possible to be contagious for three days before showing symptoms, when pre-symptomatic, or perhaps the ill worker won’t show any symptoms at all. Consider how many others those folks could come into contact with. In very short order we can go from one positive test result to dozens of employees under isolation orders.

Since contract tracing and isolation is unavoidable after a positive test, we need to focus on changing how that process impacts our business.

If you only do three things, do these

First, we need to make every effort to keep ill and symptomatic people out of our buildings. This needs a layered approach which would include a policy requiring ‘…sick people stay home…’ (both employees and visitors), signs, emails, and multiple other types of communication for both employees and visitors explaining the new expectations and what to do when they do get sick instead of coming to your building. Creating a culture where it’s not only acceptable, but expected, that workers stay home when sick will be a challenge, but with consistency and transparency it is possible.

Second, look for opportunities to eliminate instances of your team being within that two-metre bubble. If they absolutely have to be inside that bubble, can a physical barrier be installed in between them?

The options for physical barriers run from fancy plexiglass sheets to simply mounting two posts and wrapping clingwrap around to create an inexpensive (though perhaps not stylish) separation between workers and workstations. Any solid object will reduce the amount of virus an individual is exposed to. If a barrier won’t work for the operation, then requiring face coverings or masks be worn and limiting the amount of time that close contact occurs would be the last resort. Pay special attention to the workers who move from department to department (e.g. supervisors, maintenance staff, etc.).

Third, your COVID-19 preparedness program should include as much cross training as you can accomplish. Develop a training matrix; identify your mission critical jobs and how many operators you have qualified to perform each; and then determine how many operators you want trained as back-up.

Canadian manufacturers have done amazing work reacting to this pandemic. Taking that agility and applying it to planning for the upcoming respiratory illness season during the realities of the pandemic will be important to maintain the momentum the sector has made over the last quarter. 

Nathan Rasmussen is an Advisor with Made Safe. He’s part of a team that provides Manitoba manufacturers with a comprehensive suite of training and practical solutions for real world safety challenges. Visit to learn more.