If you’re at home, you may not need Covid 19 Best Practices, although practicing some of them in the home may increase your safety margin.

If your shop is doing Essential Work, you’re going in and working.  Your shop needs Covid 19 Best Practices to help minimize the risks for employees of catching the virus at work.

BTW, there is a lot of Essential Work to be done.  If your shop doesn’t have any, it might be worth looking for some.

Education

Start with education.  Have  you looked into recommended best practices by the experts?

Full disclosure: I am not an expert.  I’ve done a bunch of research and will present my findings in this article.  But you should also have the benefit of hearing directly what the experts recommend.  For example, here are the OSHA guidelines on Covid-19.

Make sure all employees at your facility are educated and understand your best practices around Covid-19.  Make sure they’re educated about their personal safety around areas such as:

  • How to wash hands effectively
  • How to use mask and gloves.  Donning and removing gloves without transferring contagion from the gloves to any surface or person is critical, otherwise why bother wearing them?

Getting a good understanding of how Covid-19 works and how these best practices prevent contagion will help everyone to follow them and make good choices any time questions come up.  Understanding why is always better than learning by rote.

Don’t Forget: Educate Customers and Partners

Let your customers and partners know what will be different during the crisis.  Use email and put notices on your website.  Let them know you’re still doing business.  Let them know that while physical visits are not welcome (you’re isolating as we note below), you’re happy to videoconference or take a phone call.

Making this clear is critical to keeping your relationships intact.

While we’re at it, be proactive about checking your own supply chain, especially for critical services you may need.  What’s changed at your material supplier?  Can your anodizer still get things done?  Do you need to adjust your schedules?  Will costs be in line or do you need to update?  And do you need to get a head start finding any new suppliers or subcontractors?

Isolate and Disinfect

We’re going to follow two general principles when fighting Covid-19: Isolate and Disinfect.

The virus can’t jump 100 feet across a room to infect you.  Isolation at some level therefore works.  If you never get close to any virus particles, you can’t be infected.

But, we can’t work effectively in isolation.  The mere fact we have to go into the shop means we’re entering a space that may have been infected.  The answer is to Disinfect surfaces we must come into contact with.  Since different people are constantly moving around the shop, Disinfecting will be a constant task.

Encourage everyone to think of their zone, the space they’re working in.  Anything that comes into that zone must be assumed to be infected, and therefore, should be disinfected or at the least, we should be protected from it via mask and gloves.

People and things are different.  We can get quite close to a surface that has virus on it and not risk infection so long as we don’t touch it or get close enough to inhale particles off the surface.  People, on the other hand, cough and sneeze.  This puts the particular into an aerosol that drifts some distance.  Hence we want 10 feet of separation between people.

Work From Home

Operators and Machinists need access to their machines, and may not be able to work from home.  But there is work in any shop that could potentially be done from home.  Consider these types of activities:

  • Front office clerical work and bookkeeping.  Billing and accounts payable.
  • Phone answering and interfacing with customers
  • Marketing and Sales
  • CADCAM and Design Work
  • Job Scheduling
  • Quoting
  • Ordering supplies and interfacing with 3rd party vendors like the anodizing shop

There’s an awful lot in any shop that can be done at home.  Get everyone who doesn’t have to be on-premise working from home.

Try to have meetings via teleconference, in the morning before folks come to work.  If you must have one at work, move it outside where people can stand 10 feet apart.

While we’re at it, ban visitors from the facility.  No sales calls or walk-ins whatsoever.  Have them call on the phone.

Arrange Shifts to Reduce Overlap

If you’re not running multiple shifts, this may be the time to start.  It will mean fewer people in the shop together so less likelihood of contact.  It also means that if one shift gets sick, the others may not if they’re not around the sick.

If you’re going to have multiple shifts, don’t overlap them.  Make sure one shift has left the building before the next one comes in.  Start the shift on the assumption they need to start by disinfecting key surfaces.

Consider sending a text message at the start of each new shift to turnover any useful new information that came up for the prior shift.  A conference call or video conference could also be used.  This way there’s no need for face to face contact to transfer that information between shifts.

Entries, Exits, and Common Spaces

Shops normally are not crowded places anyway, so maintaining separation shouldn’t be hard.  But there are chokepoints.

Building and room entries and exits are a good example.  The same goes for small rooms and common spaces like break rooms, tool rooms, restrooms, inspection labs, and so on.

There are a number of strategies and best practices to help with these spaces.

Close all Optional Spaces

If you have a break room or kitchen, close it.  Employees should bring snacks and lunches from home along with all utensils, plates, and cups.  Close that communal coffee pot.  I hate to see it go as much as the next guy, but people need to bring a thermos.  The communal urn is too risky.

Limit Access and Disinfect at Handoff

Limit the access to areas to a small number of people, and keep it to one at a time.  Say you’ve got people loading tool carts to put tooling on a machine.  You could centralize this to some dedicated tool room personnel, working one at a time.  A cart is brought and left 10 feet from the tool room.  A setup sheet or other documentation tells what tools are needed.

First thing is to disinfect the cart and setup sheet.  Add the desired tools, and move the cart out of the Tool Room to a designated pick up area.  Let the operator know to pick up (texting works great if the shop will let you use your cell phone during work hours).  Perhaps we’re starting with the cart and setup sheet in the tool room and not with the machine operator.  It will be the operator’s responsibility to disinfect when they pick up the full cart.

Same with storage areas of all kinds.

Limit Access to Contaminated Surfaces

Provide no-touch trash cans.

Corona Key

For high-traffic touch surfaces, for example storage drawers, consider providing Coronavirus Keys for employees to use when opening and closing drawers and cabinets.  These keys are made of brass with a high copper content.  Copper reduces the life of the virus on metal.  And you use them to open drawers and cabinets, or to push them closed, without touching the surface.

Hey, you’ve got a machine shop, run off a bunch some afternoon.

BTW, I showed the Corona Key to a friend who works on Covid Policies and Procedures for the local fire department and he hadn’t heard of it but really liked it.

If you know emergency responders (fire, police, or medical), you might get in touch and see if they’d be interested in having some Corona Keys.  You find a win-win opportunity to help out your local heroes while generating a little business for your shop.

Here’s an odd way to think about limiting access.  Let’s limit the need to access potentially contaminated surfaces.  Remove all non-essential interior doors.  Touching the door knob or handle means touching a contaminated surface.

Limit Access by Eliminating Sharing

Or, you can limit access through duplication.  If everyone has their own tool, they don’t need to access a shared tool.  Remember your Lean Manufacturing 5S’s?  Give everyone the tools they need at their machine so they do not need to go borrow a tool from the common area and potentially contaminate it or be contaminated by it.  Adopting these 5S practices now will up your productivity after the crisis has passed too.

If you’ve been sharing machines, stop.  Machines should be assigned to one operator per shift.  It’s fine if the operator deals with multiple machines.  But, the idea that anyone that sees a machine in trouble or stopped should jump on it won’t work with Covid-19.  Too much shared contact.

Disinfect at the Choke Points

There will always be choke points, and so introducing disinfection at the choke points  can minimize their risks.

Start with entry to the shop from the outside world.  Many shops put a hand washing station right at the door and station and employee to do a fever check at the door.  You’re not coming in until you have washed thoroughly, been checked and found to have no fever, and likely gotten fresh gloves and a mask on.

Once you’re in, go to your machine.  Clean and disinfect it at the start of your shift.

I mentioned disinfecting carts at the Tool Room.  Disinfect raw materials when accepting them from the rough cutting area.  Disinfect parts when they move to the next station and operation.  Most machine shops are used to keeping parts clean, so some of this disinfecting will be natural.

Cleanup Supplies and Stations

Having plenty of cleanup supplies available and in all the right places is crucial. Paper goods, soap, and disinfectants should be plentiful.  Spread them around the shop.

Every machine should have disinfectant available, including alcohol hand wash.  If we’re talking about a CNC Machine, some alcohol wipes for anything sensitive like the control panel are also helpful.

Provide sanitizing bins.  A bucket of Isopropyl Alcohol kept handy for dunking tools and such can save time and make people more likely to disinfect.

UV Light Sterilizes

Some studies have shown that virus on surfaces or floating in the air gets deactivated much quicker when exposed to UV light. Since most shops have roll up doors, it may be a good idea to leave them open to increase UV light and ventilation in the shop.  Shops could also put UV sterilizing light stations in to make it easy to expose tools and other smaller items to it for disinfection.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas for how to operate more safely while Covid-19 is on the loose.

Don’t stop here.  Do your own research.  If you have some ideas I’ve missed, please share in the comments.

Eventually, more people will get back to work.  But absent cures and vaccines, we’re still going to need to be careful.  Make sure your shop is ready.

 

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