By Monica Takacs, Senior Director of Major Networks, Pittsburgh Technology Council

The Pittsburgh Technology Council’s manufacturing peer group onRAMP onLINE is held weekly at 8:30AM, featuring leaders from the region’s manufacturing firms. In this installment, we were joined by two leading safety experts from long-standing Pittsburgh companies, PPG and Westinghouse.   They shared their knowledge and the lessons they learned as they have been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Implementing Safety Precautions in the wake of COVID-19

Mark A. Cancilla, Vice President, Environment, Health & Safety, at PPG kicked off the conversation. PPG has been dealing with COVID-19 since early 2020 in China. They have 17 plants there, including one in Wuhan. Since early January, they have activated their crisis management team, first regionally in Asia and then throughout the world.

In China, their management immediately put safety plans into place. The outbreak coincided with the Chinese New Year which bought them a little bit of time and they were able to open back up in China with social distancing of a 6ft radius. They don’t have a high density of people within their facilities, but lunchrooms had to be reconfigured. China served as a good head start for what we are experiencing in the US.

Once China realized the severity of the pandemic, PPG was ahead of the game, and realized that their already implemented safety precautions were in close alignment with China’s safety standards. Quickly, PPG implemented contact tracing of anyone who came in contact with the virus. This was done early on throughout their 200 facilities around the world.

Organized through regional EHS leaders, in conjunction with daily contact with management teams, employees were asked to self-report and quarantine for 14 days if they came in contact with the virus. If an employee is having symptoms, they keep track of their health and recovery. Only after two negative tests is an employee allowed back to work. Their goal is to educate the employees so that they don’t come in contact with the virus, but if they do, they want to make sure that it doesn’t spread within PPG. As an essential operation, they need to control this closely.

PPG implemented three phases of criticality:

  1. Monitor peoples’ temps as they come into the facility (for plants in widespread regions)
  2. Questionnaires for anyone coming into their buildings
  3. Signage to educate staff about what to do if they have symptoms (report it to the supervisor and go home.)

PPG does have a lot of technical service people that work at customer sites. One challenge that they have found is that some of their customer requirements for social distancing and hygiene are not up to PPG standards. They have had to work through a few issues with some customers to protect their own employees.

Westinghouse’s manager of Global Safety Programs and EHS Support, Kelly C. Albamonti told the group that they first segregated their teams into essential versus non-essential workers. This was really emotional for some employees. As a supplier of nuclear energy, there are people on their team with unique skill sets, including working with nuclear material, who can’t be easily relieved if they have to quarantine or if they are sick. In short, they have to make sure that these folks are protected.

Quickly, Westinghouse learned not to underestimate the emotional and mental wellbeing of their workforce and they have made this their #1 priority. Regular check-ins from management helps and communication helps their team navigate these challenging times. There was a lot of alignment to management communications, including simple, one on one communications, town halls with the CEO and his new podcast. This was a small step to get them through this scary period.

Westinghouse learned that a one size fits all approach to writing safety measures did not work in the advent of COVID-19.  They established some baselines across facilities, but left room for each facility to create their own measures, including employee access and staggered start times. They contracted with a company to do temperature monitoring as they did not have enough internal staff, plus it raised their employees’ confidence in having professionals who are healthcare providers.

As some Westinghouse employees still need to travel, they are running into an issue where some employees are being denied entry into certain countries because they do not have the right paperwork. Typically, their employees don’t find this out until they are at the airport and the airlines are checking documentation. Their travel company doesn’t know all the rules for every country, so this has been a real learning experience. At the time of our call, there was not a singular resource guide for this.  This also raised the need to contact trace their employees who have traveled with layovers and stopovers in different countries.

Technology

So, what’s next for employee safety?

Innovation comes from all members of the team. Corporate EHS staff ultimately evaluates and implements new technologies, but techies within organizations are eager to learn about and recommend new technologies that are available.

Technologies mentioned on the call were:

  • Distance-alerting wearables– Ford is experimenting with vibrating wearables from Radiant RFID, that alerts the user of close contact, in anticipation of getting their plants up and running
  • Thermal scanners
  • Contact tracing through smart watches

While new technologies are great, it’s important to consider cost and the legal ramifications within each region where your facilities operate.

Childcare

Childcare is an issue that Westinghouse anticipates as a long-term issue. Employee childcare was bumpy at first, but they are working through it. They did have an in-house daycare center that had to be closed. Management is enabling their teams to work a more flexible schedule. This was a culture change within their organization. Since the pandemic began, they established an employee assistance fund. Employees can apply if a spouse has been furloughed or if they have increased costs with child or elder care.

At PPG, flexibility is key.  For instance, they have some spouses that work in the same facility. From an EHS perspective, the goal would be to have them work on the same shift to decrease contact with other members of the team, but from a childcare perspective, that’s not possible. PPG understands this and enables married partners to work opposite shifts.

Final Thoughts

“The mental health impact on COVID-19 on your employees cannot be underestimated. Make sure that your people have the resources that they need. Keep an open mind and an open ear. Make sure that people feel safe. Getting hand sanitizer and wipes is the easy part.” – Kelly, said.

“Please be conservative when thinking about having your employees come back to the office,”said Mark. “From my viewpoint, I don’t see PPG returning to the office until at least June 1.” Right now, PPG has a lot of people working at home. They have a conservative approach to return to work. Folks are eager to get back to the office, but they are getting a lot done by working remotely.

Make sure that you have your top leaderships’ ear and that they have employee safety in mind. At PPG, their biggest safety advocate is their CEO.

onRAMP onLINE Peer Group for Manufacturers

Want to join a future onRAMP onLINE call? Contact Monica Takacs at mtakacs(at)pghtech.org