THERE HAVE BEEN NO MAJOR COVID-19 OUTBREAKS IN NORTH AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE PLANTS SINCE THEY REOPENED
When the coronavirus hit in March, automakers closed their plants and shut down production around the world. In North America and virtually everywhere in the world, operations came to halt. Realistically, it was a situation that couldn’t last. In May, operations gradually started up again, but not before strict safety protocols were put in place – including the wearing of masks in the workplace. Nearly five months later, all three U.S. manufacturers are operating their plants at near full capacity. Most importantly, since the resumption of operations, none have experienced a major outbreak of Covid-19 within their facilities.
News agency Reuters site took a look at the issue in the United States. Here, in a nutshell, is what it found.
- The situation
“We have people testing positive, but it’s not affecting operations,” said Gary Johnson, Ford’s global manufacturing chief. The fight against the pandemic has prompted automakers and the more than 156,000 employees at U.S. plants represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to devise new and unusual work routines and develop extraordinary levels of cooperation between rivals, practices that will need to be maintained over the coming months. For manufacturers, the response to the coronavirus has forced them to develop new habits that rely on new technologies. For example, workers report their symptoms, or lack thereof, to smartphone applications and have their temperatures taken before going to their workstations. Business and union leaders have stated that masks, as well as social distancing, are the key to keeping assembly lines running.
“The mask is the foundation” for protecting workers in the workplace, explained Gerald Johnson, GM’s director of global manufacturing. Workers are accustomed to wearing protective equipment such as goggles and gloves. However, masks that cover the mouth and nose are not standard equipment. It was difficult to convince everyone at first.
- Any complaints?
Unsurprisingly, yes. “The biggest complaint is wearing a mask,” UAW president Rory Gamble told Reuters. “A lot of our members perform physical tasks. Wearing the mask inhibits breathing.”
In addition, masks and social distancing make it more difficult for workers to communicate with each other, including when they meet up during breaks. “It makes for a longer day,” he said.
- Smiling behind the mask
Masks also make it harder to recognize the expressions of others, which is often crucial in the noisy environment of an auto plant. At GM, employees carry badges bearing the message: “I’m smiling behind my mask”. Then there’s the delicate, political symbolism for some of wearing a mask, which forces company and union leaders to be nimble in getting their messages across about the importance of keeping the masks on at all times. Explained GM’s Gamble, “there were a lot of mixed messages coming out of Washington and it gave us heartburn”. Automakers and unions agreed to follow the guidelines of public health agencies. The Big Three also adopted the measures at their plants in China, which were of course the first to be affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Write: Daniel Rufiange , Date published: 2020-10-27
Source: Auto 123 Photo credit: Wios