Staying safe in plants

Author: Lena Barner-Rasmussen

Staying safe in plants

The advice is to work from home in these COVID-19 times. However, it’s difficult to operate a plant remotely. That is why those of Walki’s employees who work in production need to come to their work premises every day. To make sure employees stay safe and keep production lines running, Walki has set up rigid safety guidelines.

“As Walki plays an essential part in the supply chain in these times of crisis, it’s very important that the plants are up and running”, says Kenneth Granö, Continuous Improvement Manager at Walki.

Corona brings new routines

Walki supplies the material for aprons and other equipment used by hospitals and health care workers, as well as to the packaging companies catering to the food and pharmaceutical industries, and hence plays a crucial role in the supply chain tackling challenges set by the virus.

Together with the plant managers, Kenneth Granö makes sure safety guidelines and processes are instilled and followed in order to hinder to the COVID-19 virus from spreading in the plants.

Walki has 13 plants in 8 countries, and the regulation and recommendations change somewhat depending on the local authorities. In addition to these, Walki has also set policies on a group level that all plants adhere to. One such regulation is forming emergency teams for each plant.

”These teams have regular meetings to follow up on the situation and make sure that the plant is following the guidelines.

How to stay safe during Covid-19 crisis

A big part of the guidelines relate to what each employee can do to stay safe. It’s more or less the same guidelines we all follow: rigorous handwashing and social distancing. In a plant, it’s of course a bit challenging to stay 2 metres a part from each other. But it’s possible.

“We change the working shift outside the control room for instance, and only a small amount of people are allowed in the locker rooms at the same time.”

There is also meticulous disinfection of surfaces: keyboards, rails, buttons, forklifts, even the coffee machines.

Walki has long done safety walks in plants to spot areas of improvements. Now individual safety walks take place: employees walk by themselves and try to spot suboptimal habits such as someone standing too close to a colleague.

Another safety aspect involves risk management. A lot of employees falling ill might jeopardize deliveries to customers, some of them supplying vital equipment to hospitals and packaging to food and pharmaceutical companies.

“That is why we have planned the working shifts and tasks so that the same competence does not spend time in the same premises simultaneously.”

To be able to identify risky situations, Walki has also started doing drills at the plants.

“We do some scenario thinking and calculate how many employees could be at risk if a certain employee gets ill? How many colleagues would that person interact with during 15 minutes? It was quite an eye opener, and we changed some procedures to secure social distancing.”

As in any emergency or safety situation, how well the virus is contained in the plants depend on all employees being mindful of their actions. Communication is vital.

“We have banners and posters in all plants, and continuously communicate about how to stay safe. I’d say that everyone does understand the importance of the safety guidelines even though the corona situation is very different from country to country”, says Granö.

So far the battle against the virus in the plants has been successful.

“Our consistent work during the years around safety procedures has helped. We have prepared for a lot of hazards such as fires. But to be honest, we had not quite expected this kind of a situation.”

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