Throughout the course of the pandemic, industrial settings as different as Amazon warehouses and meat processing plants have gotten a lot of bad press, and it’s no surprise. After all, in these physically-demanding workplaces, people often have to work together to get tasks done safely. Unfortunately, that creates optimal conditions for virus spread, while attempting to keep workers apart means putting them at risk of injury. It’s a workplace catch-22, and one that employers must resolve if they hope to recruit top talent in a post-pandemic world.
What will these workplaces look like in the near future? Though no one can be sure, some of the most recent evaluations have concluded businesses should take the following 4 steps if they hope to bring staff back safely and encourage new workers to come aboard.
Many industrial injuries are caused by insufficient training, something that became particularly clear after the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) got serious about forklift safety. In partnership with OSHA, the ITA introduced a National Forklift Safety Day, and has worked to help industrial operations develop a culture of safety. This is important at the best of times, but if workers have been out of the warehouse for an extended period, they may have picked up some bad habits or forgotten some best practices.
As staff come back, or even if business has continued throughout the pandemic, management needs to emphasize retaining. This is a time to integrate both standard equipment safety practices and new hygiene norms, such as wiping down machines and wearing appropriate PPE, because both are life-or-death matters.
Rethink Standard Tasks
OSHA sets guidelines regarding how much weight workers can carry and it’s in employers’ best interest that their staff don’t get hurt on the job. To that end, they might provide carts, use forklifts, or encourage workers to team up to complete a task – but workers should avoid these team tasks, if at all possible, now.
Companies should invest in more assistive equipment to prevent pushing and pulling injuries, consider reorganizing elements of the workplace to reduce the need for movement, and generally streamline all pathways. The less workers have to navigate around each other, the less they risk exposure.
Consider The Whole Worker
Many workers have experienced unemployment during the pandemic, and even those who haven’t are facing previously unseen levels of stress. This can have a serious impact on worker mental health, comparable to or even more significant than the mental health consequences of being injured at work. Managers need to be sure that every area, from onboarding to scheduling to supervision, takes into account what the whole worker is experiencing. Industrial settings aren’t known for being supportive, but they need to adjust those norms or risk losing employees to burnout.
Factor In Maintenance And Automation
Increased automation will go a long way towards reducing workplace density in some industrial workplaces, but others rely heavily on skilled workers to keep things running. There’s also the fact that everything from conveyor belts to robots will need to be maintained, and that will require specialized workers. Managers need to consider how workers will safely perform maintenance on equipment without risking exposure or cross-contaminating work areas. Robots aren’t going to be repairing other robots any time soon, so this is a case where clear communication and stringent sanitary practices will be of the utmost importance.
A Long Road Back
The entire US economy is currently on the long road back to full operational capacity, and it won’t be an easy journey. For those managing industrial operations, though, the health and safety standards must be even more stringent. These spaces could be dangerous before COVID-19 – they need to go even further to protect workers now.