customer checking out behind plexiglass partition at kroger
To protect its employees who are coming in contact with several people each day, Kroger has installed plexiglass partitions in its checkout lanes. — Kroger

Protecting workers from potential infection by the coronavirus has been a rapidly evolving challenge for companies in industries from food processing to transportation and logistics to retail.

Businesses are striving to stay on top of the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and communicating those recommendations to their front-line workers who are providing the essential services that keep society functioning.

The news is filled with stories of workers in these industries who have succumbed to the virus — most notably health care workers and first responders, but also bus drivers, factory workers and others.

Food and drug retailers, whose workers are in close contact with hundreds of customers each day, have been quick to roll out protections for cashiers and pharmacists. Chains including Walmart, Krogerand others have installed plastic barriers in their checkout lanes and pharmacy areas, for example, and pledged to provide workers with masks, all while struggling to keep shelves stocked amid waves of panic-buying and pantry stocking.

“There’s really been a big mind-shift from ‘The customer first,’ and ‘The customer's always right,’ to ‘We, as an industry, have to really take care of our employees first,’” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of research firm 210 Analytics, during a recent webinar presented by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association. “Whether that means store employees or people that work in the supply chain getting the food to the stores, that's really been everybody's first priority, and rightfully so.”

Both food suppliers and retailers also have struggled to keep up with demand while at the same time seeking to implement new working procedures at their facilities to protect their employees.

We’re doing all we can to protect our team members and to keep our operations open.

Hli Yang, a spokeswoman for Tyson Foods

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Infrared scanners at Tyson Foods take the temperatures of workers

Tyson Foods, the massive meat processing company, recently began installing walk-through infrared scanners to take the temperatures of workers as they enter its facilities.

The company, which had to shutter one of its facilities for a week because of an outbreak and has seen some workers die from the virus, was already taking the temperatures of all of its workers using hand-held thermometers before it installed the infrared scanners.

“The scanners are an additional tool to make sure we’re using as many efficient methods as possible to protect team members,” Hli Yang, a spokeswoman for Tyson Foods, told CO—.

She said the company plans to add more scanners at its facilities in the future.

Other ways Tyson is working to protect employees include:

  • Seeking to source an adequate supply of protective face coverings for production workers while implementing interim protocols for temporary protective coverings.
  • Erecting dividers between workstations or increasing the space between workers on the production floor, which can involve slowing production lines, Yang said.
  • Setting up tents to create outdoor break rooms, in another effort to promote social distancing.
  • Increased deep cleaning and sanitizing, especially in employee break rooms, locker rooms and other areas, which sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production.
  • Restricting visitor access to facilities and relaxing attendance policy to reinforce the importance of staying home when sick or to meet childcare needs.

Tyson also announced nearly $60 million in bonuses for workers and made several changes to its health insurance to make sure workers can receive treatment for COVID-19 if necessary.

“Tyson Foods’ role as America’s largest food company is critical,” Yang said. “We’re doing all we can to protect our team members and to keep our operations open.”

For more on how to create a safe and socially distant business, check out this episode of CO— Blueprint.
 UPS employee cleaning surface at work
UPS has increased the cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces in each of its locations, and its vehicles and equipment are cleaned and disinfected daily. — UPS

New hygiene protocols, communication platforms at UPS

Delivery firm UPS has increased the cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces at its nearly 2,200 facilities worldwide, and its vehicles and equipment are cleaned and disinfected daily, with an emphasis on the interiors and frequent exterior touch points. It is also modifying its operating procedures to increase social distancing for its nearly 500,000 employees. For example, the company has added space between work stations inside its facilities and suspended requiring a customer to sign for “signature required” packages, said Danielle Cassady, a UPS spokeswoman.

The company communicates with its front-line workers regularly about recommended behaviors, hygiene protocols suggested by the CDC and WHO and how to respond if they have symptoms. UPS has launched a new daily newsletter, called The Daily Update, for U.S. management that provides the most relevant information on COVID-19.

“UPS is using all of our existing channels to meet our employees where they are and in the way they prefer to consume information,” said Cassady.

These channels include daily pre-work communications meetings (PCMs), internal message boards, Delivery Information Acquisition Device (the handheld devices used by delivery drivers) messages, UPSers.com, the UPSGo mobile app, employee-focused social media pages and others. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, PCMs were conducted in a group setting, but have shifted to being shared on bulletin boards or the UPSGo app to allow for social distancing.

UPS has also launched The Daily Update, a daily newsletter to U.S. part-time and full-time management that provides the most recent information on COVID-19. The publication shares related company updates, news stories, a daily safety tip and technical assistance to support employees working from home.

“Our measurement shows this has been a very popular addition to the company’s COVID-19 communications efforts,” Cassady said.

In addition, she said UPS has published more than 180 stories on its employee website, UPSers.com, since the beginning of March. Many of these articles focus on how UPSers are supporting their communities through the crisis, while others highlight the specific roles individual business units have in the company’s response.

 worker on delta plane using sanitizer machine
Delta has expanded the use of the same electrostatic spraying, or “fogging,” that’s used across its aircrafts to administer a safe, high-grade, EPA-registered disinfectant. — Delta

Protecting airline personnel

Although airline volume has dropped sharply, the dangers are very real for workers. Last month, the first airline attendant, an employee of American Airlines, died of COVID-19 and more than 100 have been infected, according to reports.

Delta Airlines has stepped up measures to protect its employees in a number of ways, including encouraging the use of a personal cloth face covering or mask at work in accordance with CDC recommendations, and providing face masks to employees interacting with sick customers.

The airline also expanded the use of the same electrostatic spraying — or “fogging” — that’s used across its aircraft to administer a safe, high-grade, EPA-registered disinfectant. Delta claims the method is highly effective against many communicable diseases, including coronaviruses, at all of its reservations and customer engagement centers. It has also expanded temperature screenings to locations across its system.

On the planes themselves, Delta has begun blocking seats around the jump seats, where flight attendants often sit, to allow additional distance between crew members. It is also seating crew members in the cabin to allow for social distancing on transoceanic flights and where jump seats are located side-by-side on certain planes.

It is also encouraging certain employees to work from home if possible and expanding the use of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, gloves and masks.

“We continue to take steps to encourage social distancing, when possible, and we remain in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health organizations to make necessary adjustments across our business,” said Adrian Gee, a spokeswoman for Delta.

Other health and safety concerns

Employers need to remember that the everyday risks workers face on the job can be compounded by the pandemic, said Lorraine Martin, CEO of the National Safety Council.

“Many companies are operating with skeleton crews, which could lead to worker fatigue — an issue that impacts more than 90% of employees,” she said.

Workers may also need proper training on new equipment and operating procedures, Martin said.

Added stress can also lead to spikes in substance use disorders, she added.

“Caring about employees’ physical and mental wellbeing are paramount,” said Martin.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

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Published April 20, 2020