Safe production lines in times of COVID-19

Posted on 1 Sep 2020 by The Manufacturer

As manufacturers increase employee numbers on the production line, reducing workplace risks has never been more critical. Are you doing all you can to safeguard your staff?

Ian Hatherly, Business Director at Southalls, the UK’s fastest growing health and safety consultancy, Ian Hatherly, Business Director at Southalls, the UK’s fastest growing health and safety consultancy, explains the essential elements of a COVID-19 risk assessment, key measures to protect production line workers and why a move to online compliance management can significantly strengthen your Coronavirus control programme.

Maintain two-metre social distancing

The first step to a safer working environment is creating space between staff. When carrying out a risk assessment, evaluate how your production line could be reconfigured to allow for two-metre social distancing and segregated workstations.

This often involves reducing the speed of the line so fewer operators are required on duty at any one time.

Once individual workspaces have been measured and mapped out, they should be defined by clear floor markings and replaced at the end of each shift if boundaries are showing signs of wear and tear.

Alternative solutions to social distancing

If it’s not feasible to adhere to the two-metre social distancing rule, you’ll need to reduce COVID-19 transmission risks using other controls.

An online health and safety tool such as Southalls Safety Cloud software supports and streamlines the entire process, from tailoring the original risk assessment to recording viable alternatives and training your team on updated risk assessments and safe systems of work.

A possible Plan B is separating production line workers with Perspex barriers, which should be securely fixed  to ensure they remain in place or utilising fixed teams or partnership working.

Face masks should not be required unless deemed necessary as part of existing controls e.g. managing exposure to dusts or fume. If staff would prefer to wear a face covering then they should be supported in doing so.

Reducing surface transmission risks 

Your risk assessment should also pinpoint ways to curb contamination via surface contact. This covers all the usual touchpoints such as door handles, handrails and shared equipment, but also the components of your production line.

With that in mind, it’s recommended that all operators wear gloves, and supplement this with regular hand washing or sanitising.

Similarly, gloves should be worn by any employee accepting deliveries, and paperwork should be passed at arm’s length between yard staff.

Cutting hazards in high traffic areas

Communal spaces – such as break rooms, kitchens and toilets – can be virus hotspots, so take all possible steps to stop the spread even during ‘downtime’.

Generally, this means championing good hygiene and weaving social distancing into everyday work practices – such as staggering break times or preventing groups from congregating in small offices or meeting rooms.

The guy works in a factory for the manufacture of medical masks with nanofiber. Coronovirus and Covid-19 Protection - shutterstock

Make hygiene a priority at break times by insisting each employee makes their own refreshments and washes their cup straight after use.

Prominently placed, easy-to-read reminders – such as wiping surfaces and washing hands before and after preparing food – can reinforce key messages and promote a commitment to cleanliness throughout your canteen.

Managing homeworkers and hybrid teams

While employees who are able to complete their duties remotely are still encouraged to work from home, your risk assessment should include provisions for returning office staff.

Desk areas must be arranged at least two metres apart and signage should clearly remind personnel of the importance of social distancing. Where desks cannot be arranged in accordance with social distancing then you should consider Perspex screens etc.

Leading a ‘blended’ workforce is a fresh challenge for many manufacturing bosses – but a web-based system like Safety Cloud can keep your employees connected and compliant.

Tailored online tools, health surveillance questionnaires, risk assessments and training modules – covering everything from COVID-19 hazards and safe display screen equipment (DSE) use to mental health awareness – Safety Cloud can help you manage the safety and wellbeing of all your workers, wherever they’re based.

Keep workers well informed

Consultation and communication are core elements of any risk reduction activity.

First, tap into your team’s knowledge to explore suggestions straight from the production line, then follow up with a copy of your completed risk assessment, details of new processes and an acknowledgment form to confirm they’ll follow the controls you’ve put in place.

For extra assurance, an online health and safety tool will track response rates so you can be confident you’re 100% compliant – and your staff are ready for a new set of safety standards.

Southalls have provided frontline health and safety support to the manufacturing sector throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

To learn more about their ad hoc or managed H&S consultancy services and the power of Safety Cloud software, visit 

*All images courtesy of Shutterstock