An initial guideline for factory workers
With the worldwide infections of COVID-19 (coronavirus) crossing 220,000 cases and the death toll rising above 8,900, it is crucial for the people to understand the urgency of the situation and prepare adequately for it. As seen with countries like Italy, Spain and the UK that are dealing with the pandemic after China, once there are cases in a particular community, COVID-19 has the potential to spread exponentially if drastic measures are not taken. This in turn overwhelms the medical system, leaving the elderly and people with chronic health conditions (e.g. respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer) in a highly vulnerable position.
While there have been detailed guidelines on how individuals can practice social distancing, regular hand washing and other sanitisation techniques to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections, there has been less information on how to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak in an industrial setting such as a factory or construction site. While I highly encourage businesses and industries to limit operations to essential processes and staff, and switch to working remotely when possible, I also have to acknowledge that for manufacturing and construction industries, it might be difficult to shut down operations immediately due to the nature of the industry, and also because of the large number of workers that often live on-site.
As such, I have compiled a small list using my engineering background to help various industries prepare their initial steps to deal with COVID-19. This is, however, only meant to supplement industry-wide actions that will be needed in the long term to successfully combat the pandemic. As a disclaimer, my recommendations are by no means an exhaustive list, and it cannot replace advice and protocols from doctors, immunologists, industry experts and government policy makers. It is simply meant as a helpful starting list, because I have not seen any such information being passed around.
Initial steps to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak in an industrial setting:
Initial quarantine areas
Prepare areas on site where workers who fall sick will be initially quarantined and plan on how and where they can receive the necessary health care. Make sure all the shift managers know the designated quarantine areas and emergency plan.
Dedicated team for sanitisation
Assign a dedicated team for sanitisation and give them specific instructions suited for your site/factory. For example, they can sanitise door handles, lift buttons, work stations and commonly used surfaces several times throughout the day.
Designated areas for sanitisation
Create designated sanitisation areas for common equipment and protective gear. One area could be dedicated for clean equipment and protective gear collection (by workers coming on-shift), and the other could be for dropping off used equipment and protective gear that need to be cleaned (for workers going off-shift).
Have your safety managers or engineers brief all workers on COVID-19 and its symptoms. Stress to the workers the importance of telling their shift managers immediately if they fall sick.
During this briefing, be sure to give a practical demonstration to everyone on how to wash hands properly, and how to cough or sneeze into their elbows.
Remember that a lot of workers in Bangladesh go through immense hardships and simply telling them that they can fall ill might not motivate them to be vigilant and cautious. Be sure to tell workers that if they are carriers of the COVID-19 virus, it will not only affect themselves but also others around them, especially elderly relatives or family and friends with chronic health conditions.
Start of shift briefing
At the start of every shift, remind workers that the industry is in crisis mode because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and briefly discuss the safety tips covered in the initial COVID-19 briefing. This should not take more than 5-10 minutes before each shift.
Post COVID-19 Awareness Posters everywhere in the site or factory as reminders. There are both Bangla and English posters available on the internet.
Preparing the site/factory environment
There are many small steps you can take to prepare the site or factory environment for the COVID-19 emergency. For example, you can: 1) set up hand sanitiser stations in lobbies and common areas, so that people can sanitise after touching door handles and lift buttons; 2) fit doors with feet handles/kickers (if possible), especially in the bathrooms, so that people can open doors with their feet (While many pamphlets recommend using elbows for pressing buttons, I do not recommend this in an industrial setting because people could be carrying tools or be in a hazardous area); 3) make sure the bathrooms and worker dormitories have adequate soap and water supply, etc.
I hope this list helps construction sites and factories in Bangladesh prepare their initial steps for the COVID-19 pandemic. However, please do note, this list will only be helpful in situations where the COVID-19 patients and carriers in the community are well documented and quarantined. In situations where there is already community spread with undocumented and unquarantined COVID-19 cases, experts all over the world recommend closures and social distancing to prevent rapid spread of the virus.
In a pandemic, everything at first seems like an overreaction—everything afterwards seems inadequate.
Saamiya Seraj, Ph.D, is a civil engineer based in Austin, Texas. Email: [email protected]