Blog

Changing Safety Operations as an Essential Business During COVID-19

by Erika Plumlee

We have always known that our employees are essential to our business. And this year, we learned how essential we are to the economy. Lyons Blow Molding manufactures plastic bottles for the food, beverage and sanitation industries. I am their Human Resources Manager and “Department of One.” 
  
Since the start of COVID-19, production demands have significantly increased, especially due to increased production of sanitation supplies like hand sanitizer. I believe part of our success in being able to quickly and effectively respond to our customer's needs while keeping our employee's health and safety in the forefront was the result of an initiative we started 18 months ago.  
Developing our Culture
During the fall of 2018, we decided to focus more attention on our work culture and employees. Lyon's initiated our first Employee Engagement Survey, achieving an incredible 92% participation rate.  
 
While the overall results were positive, the survey did point to some things we could do better such as
 
  • Taking more time to consider employee's interests when making decisions, 
  • Improving communication with employees, 
  • Creating health and well-being programs,
  • Developing ways to operate more smoothly and effectively, and 
  • Improve performance recognition and development programs. 
As a result of the survey we developed employee engagement committees to address each of these areas. Additionally, we made sure to include employees from all three shifts. I facilitated this process in which we developed goals and action steps targeting at improving each of these areas. The biggest key to our success in these efforts was the fact we stayed focused on what the employees said they wanted. Their excitement showed in their participation and the overall improvement in our work culture. 
 
Some of the changes we made include:
 
  • installed a digital communications display in the breakroom to share important information;
  • initiated a wellness challenge that includes our health care provider giving optional, on-site health screenings;
  • partnered with a local bank to address employees' financial concerns;
  • created a leadership development program to encourage employees to make career progression moves within Lyons; and
  • intentionally and specifically focused on the development and retention of all our employees.
We were purposefully moving towards a more engaged and positive work culture.
 
After being deemed an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a positive and safe work environment took on a whole new meaning.  
Being Essential in a Time of COVID-19
We never saw COVID-19 coming or the way it would change our operations. However, the focus we had developed on improving how we communicate with employees and building up our well-being program are key to keeping our culture strong in spite of the pandemic. Here are some of the ways we are adapting to help our employees and meet the challenge.
 
Answering Employee Communication Needs
 
The management team quickly developed and implemented a consistent communication plan to help our employees understand that we are an essential business and the safety measures we would implement to protect them.     
 
On Sunday, March 25th, the day before the St. Louis Stay at home order was to go into effect, I called all of our employees and temporary agencies to explain our role as an essential business and respond to any questions or concerns.  
 
On Monday, March 26th, we distributed employment verification letters to employees on all three shifts easing their concerns about being able to travel to and from work.  
 
We posted information about the Families First Act, including how to apply for emergency sick leave and/or expanded FMLA, next to our labor law posters 
 
I meet individually with any employee who has questions about qualifications and the application process. This includes reaching out to doctor's offices and schools to help employees with the appropriate documentation.  
 
We place posters with current CDC recommendations for social distancing, handwashing and use of masks in the building entryway.
 
Those same messages are shared on the breakroom TV and we change up the display frequently to catch employee's attention and to encourage on-going vigilance.
 
We have also provided free and confidential resources related to coping with the stressors caused by the global pandemic on the digital display. 
 
Work Center Health & Sanitation
 
As the situation progressed and employees became more concerned about their safety at work, we quickly made changes to the work environment allowing for social distancing, decreasing touchpoints and increasing sanitation.  
 
We worked directly with our janitor to identify additional sanitation needs. 
 
  • He now cleans higher risk surfaces throughout the day. 
  • Managers routinely help clean touch points in the breakroom and throughout the plant.
  • We also have bottles of disinfectant and paper towels on all tables in the breakroom and hand sanitizer throughout the plant and encourage employees to use them often.  
  • Forklift drivers also sanitize their forklifts at the beginning and end of their shifts.
  • We have reached out to multiple vendors and even gone to stores ourselves to ensure we have enough cleaning supplies.  
  • We have provided reusable masks for employees when they cannot maintain the 6 foot social distance recommendation.  
Changes to Increase Social Distancing
 
We changed our procedures for clocking in and out.
 
  • At first, we expanded the time-clock grace period to alleviate congestion around time clocks. 
  • We then went a step further by discontinuing the use of time clocks altogether.  We modified a document already used by supervisors to capture everyone's time and enter it manually.  
  • We also collaborated with our four temporary agencies discontinuing their sign-in sheets and time clock as well. We made a deal with them so that we forward them the temporary employee's hours every day. Although it increases their workload, our temporary companies understood the request and immediately made this transition.    
 
One of the other changes we made was adding an additional breakroom.  This allowed employees to social distance during break and mealtimes.  
 
One final action we've added to our daily operations is to take every employee's temperature at least once every 24 hours. While this was a good practice to add anyway, like many employers we initially had rumors that employees were coming to work sick creating a wave of fear that people were spreading COVD-19. We used the temperature reading since that was the best-known symptom of the virus. 
 
  • We hired a nurse to take the employees temperatures and a manager or I was present to document pass/fail on the reading. 
  • If an employee's temperature was above the threshold, they were sent home and I follow up with them by telephone later in the day. 
  • We leave the door to the employee entry way open to help circulate fresh air.
  • We also marked the floor indicating a six-foot distance, so people are not crowding around the nurse who is taking temperatures.  
  • Once screened, the employees are allowed entrance into the breakroom and production floor. 
The Impact

The physical changes we have made to our work environment over the past weeks to minimize risks to and help keep employees safe have been astronomical. While some of these changes have increased our daily workload, we are committed to doing what is best for our employee's health and safety.  As this crisis continues indefinitely, our next step is to make appropriate changes permanent. 
 
Our employees are grateful and used to our new routines.  
 
We could have never imagined this situation 18 months ago when we conducted our first employee engagement survey and began discussing ways to build a better work culture. It has been amazing to watch the teamwork, enhanced communication, courage, resilience and dedication to the business and each other demonstrated during this time of adversity.  
 
I am proud and honored to be part of the team at Lyons Blow Molding.
 
Feel free to contact me if you want to share or discuss ideas for your essential workplace.  Information sharing can only lead to more positive outcomes for all of our essential employees!
 

About the Author
Erika Plumlee is the Human Resources Manager at Lyons Blow Molding. Feel free to reach out and ask her more about her experiences in Human Resources during this challenge. You can reach her by phone at 314-524-5021 ext. 610 and by email at eplumlee@clsmith.com.