Adjusting Best Safety Practices During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has differing impacts on businesses of all types across all industries.

AWS Publications | February 8, 2021 | Tech and Industries
Welding Digest ►  Adjusting Best Safety Practices During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has differing impacts on businesses of all types across all industries.

In the manufacturing space, specifically, it has influenced changes in the supply chain, put extra pressure on suppliers and partners, and prompted operations to take a close look at health and safety protocols to ensure those practices are aligning with the findings and advice of medical experts (Figure 1). As a result, companies have had to quickly adapt to an ever-changing COVID-19 environment.

Figure 1-3

Figure 1: The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted manufacturers to bring a laser-like focus on safety, personal protective equipment, sanitization, and personal hygiene in the workplace. Pictured is a Kapco Metal Stamping employee handing out face masks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Factors that enabled companies to endure the tough times

The companies that have been most successful in handling safety and health considerations to keep operations running during the pandemic were prepared to react quickly and thoroughly from the start. Some of the factors that positioned businesses well to weather the initial months of the pandemic include the following:

Having extra inventory of sanitation materials and personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes products like hand sanitizer, disinfecting cleaners and face masks. Organizations that were stocked up for the traditional flu season benefitted from being prepared. Other sanitation practices that companies embraced include spacing shift changes by at least 30 min to ensure the entire facility — shops, equipment, bathrooms and lunchrooms — can be properly disinfected.

Acting quickly and appropriately. When medical experts and epidemiologists make recommendations, companies should react appropriately, even when those recommendations change with new information. There is certainly a significant cost associated with making hard decisions that change the norm of an operating environment. However, companies that reacted quickly to the facts and information related to the pandemic made difficult choices, such as discontinuing in-person department meetings, customer and vendor visits and travel between internal offices and business sites. Those interactions continued virtually unless absolutely necessary, in which case appropriate mask wearing and social distancing guidelines were followed. Employees in the industry who were able to get their jobs done remotely embraced the work-from-home norm. Meanwhile, those skilled workers responsible for the welding and manufacture of many of the products that companies produce were supplied with face masks and PPE while social distancing mandates were enacted (Figure 2).

Maintaining a diverse set of skilled workers. By having welders with a diverse skill range, organizations can toggle output capacity without significant layoffs due to the variety of roles and responsibilities within their staff. Less experienced welders can operate welding robots while more experienced welders can assist those team members with robot setups, programming, inspections and quality control. Additionally, the most experienced and skilled welders can continue executing manual welding work. That skill balance affords the flexibility to right-size to meet demand without having to change employment levels or adjust hiring practices, even during times of great uncertainty.

Figure 2-1

Figure 2: Skilled workers responsible for the welding and manufacture of products that organizations produce were supplied with face masks and PPE while social distancing mandates were enacted.

 

Investing in employee safety and productivity through technology

Just before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kapco Metal Stamping (kapcoinc.com), a family-owned fabrication and stamping company located in Grafton, Wis., actively invested in a suite of welding technology. The company’s investment in technology played a pivotal role in it being able to maintain production demand while also keeping the welding team safe, socially distanced and healthy (Figure 3).

Some of that equipment included a pair of aluminum welding robots with servo torches. These machines have minimized welders’ exposure to fumes and physical repetitions, while also improving quality consistency and production rates. These robots feature touch-sense capabilities that detect any missing parts, which can eventually lead to expensive fixture repairs if not caught immediately, not to mention rework for the welding team.

Another intelligent welding system provides preset programs to keep the company compliant with customers’ requirements and ISO standards. It also monitors arc-on time status and wire usage. From a spot-welding perspective, added bowl feeders and dual-palm buttons helped the company make improvements to pinch-point safety and cycle times.

The other thing that should be invested is time. Organizations that are serious about safety should perform daily safety audits to make sure employees are using their company-provided protective equipment properly while following corporate safety guidelines.

While you may look at that kind of investment and think, “What does that have to do with keeping my weld team safe, healthy, and productive as it relates to COVID-19?” These investments can help keep the team fresh and focused. New technology and safety audits can help take the taxing, day-to-day demands of their work off their shoulders so they can spend their energy delivering quality work while also keeping health and safety protocols top of mind.

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Figure 3: Investing in technology and automation allows employees to focus more time and energy on following safety protocols and health policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Training for now, training for the future

 

Manufacturers should have robust safety training in place as well as a culture around safety excellence. New welder training should consist of at least a week-long welding technology and technique class for all new hires immediately after corporate orientation, regardless of experience level. In addition, if possible, organizations dedicated to continuing excellence should have an onsite welding trainer who offers personalized instruction for aluminum and steel; gas metal and gas tungsten arc welding; and specific equipment training. It’s also a good practice to offer reimbursement for American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) and Certified Welding Educator (CWE) seminars, other training and testing and designated, paid study time with experienced CWIs on staff.

Having a welding team that is trained to thrive will help to establish a culture of excellence for safety, as well as productivity and quality.