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Take Some Tips from Swagelok about Dealing with a Pandemic

by Luke Wurban, on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 @ 12:04 PM

By planning ahead, we knew how to deal with COVID-19 before it arrived

Ward Dumm for BlogIn a video briefing this month with Plant Engineering magazine, Swagelok shared some best practices for keeping essential manufacturing operations running during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 200 manufacturers were on the call. Today we'd like to share that information with you too.

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Planning ahead

While Swagelok had no way of predicting COVID-19 specifically, the company knew that eventually some kind of bug was likely to sweep the world. As for any other strategic risk, the company planned ahead.

“Several years ago, we did a table-top exercise for the eventuality of a pandemic that served as a good tool for guiding our initial actions,” said Ward Dumm, vice president of operations during the video call.

Swagelok has a lot at stake, with about 5,500 employees at 20 manufacturing operations in the United States, the Isle of Man and China.

Key steps

Here are some steps that allowed Swagelok to continue operations:

  • Enforce social distancing measures.
  • Have associates self-check prior to entering sites.
  • Introduce more stringent hygiene protocols in production and operations, using guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Make remote work mandatory for all office associates and as many support associates as was feasible.
  • Quarantine associates who reported potential or confirmed exposure to someone with the virus.
  • Stagger shifts to reduce population overlap.
  • Take a structured approach to communications within the management team and with employee associates, customers and supply chain.
  • Rely heavily on caution, key documents and individual responsibility.

Crisis response team

Swagelok formed a crisis response team with several sub-teams to address associate safety, business continuity for customers and the supply chain, and communications, both internal and external. Executive management met daily to address issues. Communications with associates went out bi-weekly.

The subteam addressing associate impact included representatives from human resources, operations and communications. Once work-at-home was deemed mandatory, the IT and communications department had to address the technical challenges involved.

Swagelok issued letters to associates working at production sites, verifying their role as part of a critical manufacturing enterprise. That proved valuable in at least several instances when people were questioned by authorities.

To enter a Swagelok facility, associates had to verify that they were:

  • Not under quarantine at that moment.
  • Had no COVID-19 symptoms in the last 72 hours, and that more than seven days had passed since the onset of any symptoms such as fever, cough, respiratory illness or difficulty breathing.
  • Not waiting for COVID-19 test results or been in contact with someone waiting for results
  • Had no close contact with or cared for someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Not engaged in Level 2 or Level 3 travel, as defined by the CDC.
  • Not returning to work without a release to return to work from a medical provider.

On the plant floor

Social distancing put an end to all large group meetings. Limits were placed on the number of people allowed to congregate in common areas. Shifts were staggered by 30 minutes to avoid congestion and allow for area cleaning.

Work cells were separated when possible. When that couldn't be done, plexiglass barriers between work cells were installed. Managers' desks were moved. All interior doors were propped open. In rest areas, only one chair is permitted per table. Swagelok also put tape on the floors to illustrate what six feet of separation looks like.

CDC guidelines determined cleaning protocols for suspected or confirmed cases of contamination. CAD drawings were used to define the areas to be cleaned.

Some jobs usually require two associates working in tandem. That had to change. Rather than a collective heave-ho, associates used machines for heavy lifting whenever possible. Where collaboration among shop-floor associates is essential, video cameras and other technology are being used to share details of work being performed.

Documentation and communication

It is important to have documents that define the terms used in policies, protocols and procedures. Swagelok's documents include close contact guidelines, how to maintain six-foot separation, good hygiene practices and cleaning protocols by security level, a return-to-work policy and hardship paid time off policy.

At the time of the call, Swagelok was providing masks for all employees, but making their use optional. The company is providing guidelines on the proper use of homemade masks but will not allow scarves due to potential entanglement issues.

We appreciate Plant Engineering magazine giving Swagelok a forum to help others. We hope this information will be helpful to you as well.

Have some questions or concerns? You can reach Edmonton Valve & Fitting at 780-437-0640, email us at info@edmonton.swagelok.com or with a note using the 'Message Us' on our website (click button below).

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