Since the emergence of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, everyone has been on high alert, keen for reassurance that the goods they buy have been produced in a safe and hygienic way.
As understanding about the virus has increased, month-on-month, we have learned that, for example, COVID-19 can live on certain surfaces – like cardboard and metals – for several days, and can be carried and transmitted from person-to-person on material like clothing. We know that it’s also airborne and can be passed on by uncontained coughing and sneezing, as well as by touch, when a person with the virus uses equipment or interacts with things like entry keypads or door handles.
At the same time, we are becoming increasingly savvy about ways of preventing its spread. We know it is what’s called an ‘enveloped’ virus, which means its germs can be killed by washing items, from hands to clothes, in normal soap and water. We also know what chemicals can successfully kill the coronavirus, when added to cleaning solutions and handwashes. These include chlorine-based bleaches and wipes (though these should only be used on surfaces which cannot be tarnished); and hand sanitisers with an alcohol content of over 70 per cent. At the same time, there are a number of chemicals which have the right antiviral properties to kill coronavirus germs within the European standard of five minutes (EN14476). For example our Super Professional range which is suitable for use in food environments; our Evans Safezone Plus products and Evans EC4 Super Concentrate – new formulation. You should seek our advice on which items are most appropriate for your needs and the kinds of surfaces you might wish to use them on before purchasing.
Of course, all of this is very relevant for manufacturers of anything from flower bouquets to industrial tools. Quite simply, it has never been more important to be able to demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable precautions to ensure that the goods you supply have been produced and packaged in a COVID-secure way and therefore pose no risk to the public.
What do manufacturers need to consider? Some common questions answered.
- I have a hygiene strategy in place – is this enough? If you already have a sound hygiene strategy in place which covers documented cleaning schedules for all areas of your plant, well done. This strategy should also include COSHH reporting forms (control of substances hazardous to health), more recently referred to as MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets); clearly-designated team roles and responsibilities; colour-coded cleaning equipment for use in different areas; personal protective equipment (PPE) for designated tasks and cleaning chemicals which are fit for purpose. However, we would still advise reviewing your processes and procedures in light of COVID-19, because, as outlined above, it does pose additional risks and you need to ensure that you’ve taken all reasonable steps to protect your customers, but also the people working in close proximity on your production lines, from cross-infection from the virus. Don’t be daunted by this: you’ll find advice on achieving COVID-security in our recent guide.
- We’re struggling to get hold of the PPE (personal protective equipment) we need to achieve COVID-security and we’re worried about passing our customers’ quality control audits. What can we do? Getting hold of PPE has been very difficult since the start of the pandemic, partly due to the prioritisation of healthcare settings in the supply chain. However, we’ve worked tirelessly to create new ‘supply’ links for PPE provision, and thanks to our strong network of our trusted contacts and existing suppliers and memberships of industry bodies, we can now say with confidence that we can get you anything you need. Nevertheless, you may need to be flexible, as sometimes the specific items you normally buy, and your normal colours, might not be available. For example, we work with a large-scale floral gift distributor that normally uses blue protective gloves so that, if they shred, any pieces will be clearly visible amidst the bunches of flowers and can then be removed before they reach their destination. There was an instance where blue vinyl gloves were in critically short supply, but we worked with our customer to source them a suitable alternative – in this case, blue nitrile gloves. As a result, their end customer was more than happy with the steps they had taken.
- We have thousands of employees on our site/our employees have to work on projects involving cramped spaces and we can’t ensure social distancing. Does this mean we’re putting our people at risk or, worse still, breaking the law? As you may be aware, several months ago the Government revised its guidance on social distancing from two metres to ‘one metre-plus with added precautions’. Our view is that there are always things you can do, in any setting, to limit the risk of cross-contamination, if you think creatively. For example, introducing controlled entrance and exit points, and one-way systems, to avoid people having to pass colleagues at close proximity wherever possible; ensuring any team members who do work closely wear personal protective equipment such as masks, visors, aprons and gloves; avoiding any unnecessary gatherings like meetings and introducing staggered mealtimes in your on-site canteen, to ensure you don’t have too many people together in one place at any given time, and reviewing your touch points around your building – introducing touchless alternatives wherever possible, including insisting that your people pay for items in your canteen and elsewhere with cards instead of cash.
- Do we need PPE (personal protective equipment)? This will depend on the exact nature of your operations. The key things to bear in mind when it comes to making this decision are: how close do your employees need to be to one another to do their jobs? If the answer is one metre or less, then PPE such as masks and/or face visors would probably be a good idea. You might also want to consider whether there is any risk of employees passing on COVID-19 to each other, or to your customers, through the things they handle. While this is what’s called an ‘enveloped’ virus, which means that it can be killed off through effective handwashing, gloves might be worth considering as an added layer of protection, so long as they are worn correctly and changed between uses – not doing so makes them potentially even more risky than well-washed hands. And because the coronavirus can live for some time on fabrics, like clothes, in some situations throw-away aprons might be a good idea, so that staff are less likely to carry the virus from place to place, or home to their families. See our recent product brochures for some examples of the kinds of things we mean.
- What other things do you think we should consider? We can’t stress enough the importance of basic hygiene, and of developing a culture in which people understand the importance of doing the right thing, and their responsibilities to both customers and colleagues. Some industrial settings are already squeaky clean due to strict quality assurance requirements, and, in such instances, small tweaks that take things up to that next, COVID-secure level are all that’s needed. In other environments, particularly heavy industrial settings, this might not be the case. Where workers are working with heavy, dirty machinery, one-step removed from the end product, they might be more used to things like hand hygiene taking a back seat. However, there are no exceptions to this rule, and it is vital that ALL workplaces are cleaned according to robust processes and with appropriate tools and chemicals, particularly touch points, and staff wash and sanitise their hands regularly. It may be necessary to provide them with improved facilities for doing so, such as antiviral wipes, and portable handwashing and sanitisation stations. You might be reeling in horror at that suggestion, worried about the potential cost of making such changes, but, to put this in perspective, weigh this up in terms of the potential protection of, or enhancement to, your reputation as a result – not to mention the cost of any downtime that could result from an outbreak at your plant.
Our Director, Janette Elliott, said: “Our view on this is very simple: we’re all in this together and if every organisation and every employee, and every member of the general public, takes every preventative step they possibly can, the potential to defeat this awful virus and get back to a realistic sense of normality, sooner, is exponentially higher than if we don’t.
“The hygiene steps we help companies to implement are relatively simple. They just require a little bit of thought, time and effort and we can guide firms through that process every step of the way, helping them to make the right decisions for their individual businesses from our extensive experience.”
If you represent a manufacturing or engineering business and could do with a helping hand in mitigating some of the risks surrounding COVID-19, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org or 01482 327580.