The manufacturing industry is an integral part of the economy of the United Kingdom. In 2019, it contributed 17.41% to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the UK Office for National Statistics. The sector employs approximately 2.7 million people and accounts for 45 percent of exports worth £275 billion. Indeed, manufacturing is one of the most robust industries in the UK until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The good news is the economy is gradually recovering and showing signs of renewed vitality. A survey of 300 small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses shows 58% of the business owners claim they intend to increase investment within the next six months, while 54% plan to hire more employees.

It is undeniable that manufacturing is a chief player in the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the manufacturing companies ready themselves for the eventual reopening of their facilities, employers and employees must learn to navigate a patchwork of mandatory and voluntary health and safety measures in the workplace. What these regulations, and how should employees prepare themselves for return to work? Here are four areas that you need to consider.

COVID Law for Manufacture

Prolonged contact due to long shifts, minimal distance on assembly lines, and lots of enclosed communal spaces – these are some of the factors that put manufacturing and production employees at an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus. Because these people have a higher exposure to COVID-19, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) created a set of guidelines to protect them when they return to work.

The first and most crucial step in guaranteeing a safe return to the workplace is conducting a thorough COVID-19 risk assessment. It helps employers identify activities that could spread the virus, consider who could be exposed and get sick, and remove the activity or control the risk. The evaluation does not exclusively focus on the returning workers and how to prevent them from getting ill or transmitting the virus. It also examines any potential hazards from machinery, equipment, facilities, and buildings that were not for a long time.

According to HSE, employers and managers should take extra care to prevent cross-contamination relating to mobile plants such as forklift trucks, excavators, and cherry pickers. The machines must be cleaned and disinfected after every use. Furthermore, only dedicated operators must use this machinery.

The guidelines also provide practical suggestions on reducing the risk of spreading the virus. They include social distancing, frequent handwashing, good ventilation, and staggering shifts. Lastly, employers should communicate the protocols to their employees to ensure full compliance.

Social Distancing in Manufacture

Implementing and maintaining social distancing is a big challenge in manufacturing, where it is almost impossible to keep the 2-metre apart rule at all times. The HSE suggested limiting the number of people on-site to decongest shared spaces such as passenger lifts, dining halls, and corridors. Employers can reduce the number of employees by imposing staggering shifts and creating alternated breaks. Workers can hold discussions away from each other through video conferences, emails, and other remote working tools to decrease physical and social interaction.

Employees can spread out the flow of people by putting up additional entrances and exits on the premises. Open-plan offices, production areas, and communal spaces must be partitioned off into ‘work zones’ to reduce occupancy, segregate employees, and guarantee that everyone maintains social distancing. They can also install barriers, cubicles, dividers, or screens to separate the workers.

Managers should provide their teams with all the tools and equipment necessary to perform their tasks to prevent them from wandering to other parts of the premises in search of the things they need. Only designated people should be permitted to use their tools as this prevents everyone from touching objects often touched by others which lessens the possibility of spreading the virus.

Lastly, all employees must be reminded about social distancing as frequently as possible through warning and safety signs. An example is putting adhesive markings on the floor to help workers maintain a substantial distance from each other.

PPE for Manufacture

In work environments where health and safety hazards are high, the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is necessary to minimise exposure to specific risks. Examples of PPE include aprons, gloves, bodysuits, fall protection gear, high-visibility clothing, helmets, harnesses, goggles, and safety footwear. Employers are responsible for providing PPE to their workers and training them to use it properly and responsibly.

It is nearly impossible to wholly eliminate the possibility of spreading coronavirus in manufacturing and production plants. The best way to mitigate the risk of virus transmission is by wearing the appropriate PPE. The HSE recommends wearing facemasks, such as N95 respirators or surgical masks, in workplaces highly exposed to the COVID-19 virus to protect the wearer.

Although cloth face coverings are not suitable substitutes for facemasks, they help control the spread of the virus, especially in places where social distancing is not feasible. It reduces the number of respiratory droplets that people scatter when they talk, sneeze, or cough. The cloth covering protects other employees, not the wearer, as it prevents those who may be asymptomatic from passing the virus to others.

A face covering loses its effectiveness if it becomes soiled, wet, or contaminated during an employee’s shift. Employers must ensure that workers have ready access to clean face coverings or disposable facemasks. Furthermore, face coverings should fit snugly but comfortably and allow the wearer to breathe easily. They should also include multiple layers of fabric and withstand the warmest temperature during laundry.

Compliance Training for Manufacture

Employees returning to work will benefit from returning to manufacture work compliance training, especially that new health and safety regulations are in place. Training will refresh workers’ knowledge and ensure they understand the current legislation, guidelines, and policies relating to their daily work. You can find several training courses online that do not take much time or cost a lot of money.

With the implementation of COVID-19 provisions, employees need recap training on workplace health and safety regulations. It helps secure the physical and mental well-being of everyone in the working environment. There are several health basics that many people overlook. Educating employees about the benefits of following these protocols will help increase their compliance with the rules. A training, for instance, will inform workers to refrain from touching their faces until after they wash their hands or when they remove their PPE.