COVID-19: Managing Your Operations - A Discussion About Physical Distancing [Videocast]
[HOST] Welcome to today’s videocast which is part of a series on Managing Your Operations in a COVID-19 World. I am your host, Jesse Matthews. In each videocast in this series, we focus on specific topics that have been on many of our minds as businesses resume operations. In this discussion we’ll be focusing on physical distancing. Today I have two panelists joining me, Joe David, and Torey McLaren, both Industrial Hygiene Specialists with Travelers Risk Control organization. Thank you both for joining me today.
[HOST] I think about how different our world is than just a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago if we said “social distancing” no one would know what that means, we hear it and see it every day now. Why has social distancing or physical distancing become such an important practice in today’s world?
[SPEAKER 1] You’re right, this is new to a lot of people. You may have heard the terms social distancing and physical distancing used interchangeably…The CDC defines physical distancing as maintaining 6 feet between yourself and other people (about 2 arms’ length) - that’s the physical part. - the actual physical distance between people. Here’s the social part - It also means refraining from gathering in groups, staying out of crowded places, and avoiding mass gatherings.
[HOST] I have been doing some virtual get-togethers with friends and last week one person asked, who decided 6 feet was the right number? Is there a reason for the 6 feet rule?
[SPEAKER 2] The virus is mainly spread through droplets that are expelled from a person’s mouth and nose. When an infected person speaks, exhales, coughs, or sneezes, the droplets become airborne and can travel about three to six feet before settling on surfaces due to gravity…… So, maintaining that space between people can help reduce exposure to those droplets. It really is everyone’s responsibility to practice physical distancing to protect themselves and others.
[HOST] So just stay 6 feet away from other people. Sounds easy enough, but maybe it’s not as easy as it sounds? We are seeing many creative ways for different businesses to maintain social distancing, it ranges from signs, posting on floors and even monitors observing people. I’d imagine that some workplaces, like with high occupancy office buildings may have challenges trying to accomplish physical distancing. What are some things that businesses can do where this may be a challenge?
[SPEAKER 1] Perform a detailed review of operations and work station configurations for each work environment.
Think about how to limit the overall occupancy of a building/jobsites at a single time: allow employees to continue to work from home, limit in person meetings with non-critical third-party visitors (sales reps., vendors) – conduct business virtually
[HOST] But what about for people that DO need to come into work like production line workers or construction workers?
[SPEAKER 1] For those employees who need to come into work, implement staggered or rotating shifts and staggered breaks. Consider eliminating shared water coolers, visits from food vendors, and/or shared services such as community coffee bars. Establish flow patterns using arrows on the floor and/or physical barriers.
[SPEAKER 2] Joe, if I could interject with an example…with flow patterns, think about how grocery stores have been managing physical distancing by marking aisle with arrows to indicate one-way traffic; stickers on floors; They’ve also implemented physical barriers in the form of transparent plastic shields to provide a barrier between cashiers/tellers or personnel who need to interact with customers. All these solutions help to maintain proper distancing.
[HOST] What about directional stairwells? Can they be used as a method for physical distancing?
[SPEAKER 1] Yes, if there are multiple stairwells in a facility: some can be designated as ascending stairwells and others can be designated as descending stairwells. This would minimize crowding into elevators. You can also assign entrance/egress doors to eliminate crowd surges at the start and end of shifts.
[HOST] One common challenge for almost every business is balancing staff meetings, shift start-up meetings, or toolbox talks where employees are gathering in groups. How can physical distancing work in these instances?
[SPEAKER 2] There are some options here - consider changing to virtual meetings or, if in-person meetings are essential, consider limiting meetings to 10 people or less while still maintaining physical distancing. You can eliminate non-critical meetings and use instant messaging or emails to convey shift-to-shift information.
[HOST] I would like to circle back to something you that speaker one mentioned in the beginning, “Perform a detailed review of operations and work station configurations for each work environment.” What are some changes that can be made with work station configurations?
[SPEAKER 1] Review floorplans and remove or reconfigure seats, furniture, and workstations as needed, like remove extra seating from lobbies and other gathering areas.
[SPEAKER 2] Again, Joe, if I could add to that….In some cases, like offices with cubicle arrangements, reconfiguration may not be an option. You may have to rely on solutions like staggering or rotating work schedules - so that only every other workstation is occupied on any given day. Now some offices have gone to open office concepts…. in addition to distancing occupied work stations, these companies may also want to think about installing actual physical barriers like transparent plastic panels.
[HOST] A common practice in construction is for employees to travel to work sites in the same truck, other businesses have employees traveling together in cars and trucks. What are some things that should be considered to still get people to work and maintain physical distancing?
[SPEAKER 1] They could increase the spacing required in the vehicle by marking seats that indicate proper distancing between passengers or simply limit the number of passengers per ride.
[HOST] We’re social – we like to gather, we’re used to having a certain degree of freedom when it comes to things like walking around and talking to people in our workplaces, So, what other things that employers can be thinking about with regard to physical distancing?
- Reduce employee wandering throughout facility by assigning them to designated areas.
- Make sure employees have what they need in their designated area;
- Use signage or visual cues to assign employees to specific areas;
- For example, on construction sites, crews can use color-coded stickers on hard hats assigned designated work areas to prevent job site roaming…….they could also take advantage of wearable technology such as proximity devices worn on hard hats or wrist bands to monitor employee location and physical distancing;
- Control access to floors or closed areas within an office building using key cards
- [HOST] Another challenge is tasks or workstations that require two employees to be in proximity like a two-person lift? What can we do to protect our employees in situations where physical distancing or the use of barriers just isn’t possible?
[SPEAKER 1] The short-term solution is to use face coverings and gloves and enforce frequent hand hygiene - but just remember that face coverings are not considered a substitute for social distancing and glove use is not considered a substitute for good hand hygiene.
The longer-term solution is to review the work task with the goal of eliminating the need for a two-person lift by using mechanical lift aides or redesigning the process.
Redesigning the process can also help mitigate potential manual material handling-related injuries, which can be common with a task like this.
[HOST] Regarding PPE and hand hygiene – for our listeners, we will have two additional videocasts regarding these topics as part of this series.
[HOST] How about crews working outside? Do they need to be as concerned about physical distancing if they are outdoors?
[SPEAKER 1] Yes, even crews working outside should maintain a six-foot distance when possible.
[HOST] This has been a great discussion regarding physical distancing. And both of you have given listeners various options to consider as businesses resume operations. Thank you for listening and stay tuned for other videocasts in this series. Please also remember Travelers has additional resources for COVID-19 to help support and guide you and your organizations.