Guest Editorial
Practical safety updates in the wake of COVID-19


any aspects of metal fabricating may never return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. So fabricators should peer through the current fog of confusion toward the practical changes they can establish to create a safer shop environment.

Unlike office workers who can work remotely, production workers must attend to fabrication machinery. Suppliers and outside service vendors need on-site access, as well. How can guidelines, such as creating 6-ft. distances between employees, staggering or limiting the arrivals of employees and guests, PPE, daily symptom checking, and mandating daily disinfections be applied in this situation? And how can these safety guidelines not negatively affect productivity and profitability?

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Shields can be installed between employees to limit the spread of airborne droplets.
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Pod teams

A recent report from business consultancy McKinsey & Co. suggested that manufacturers establish “pods” for on-site personnel. These pods would be organized as small, self-contained teams with clearly defined tasks and workspaces. The team would handle a single production line, and operators would perform more tasks on fewer pieces of machinery, limiting interactions. Each pod would have staggered start, stop and break times to minimize contact.

This will require flexibility. For example, a fab shop could arrange schedules so that different crews work on different days. That way, if one member of the crew gets sick, the number of people exposed to infection is limited. Also, shift handovers can be conducted remotely using videoconferencing technology with paperwork fully digitalized and shared on mobile devices.

Separating employees

Social distancing guidelines require personnel to stand 6 ft. or more away from each other. Fortunately, fabrication shops normally don’t have employees that close to each other because of the size of the machinery. In situations where employees are in close contact, like an assembly operation, the assembly line can be safely reconfigured to meet social distancing needs without needing to reduce head count. Also, the same cough and sneeze shields used at checkout counters in banks and retail outlets can be installed between employees on an assembly line as movable floor-standing models, limiting the spread of airborne droplets.

Another way to separate employees is to zone the shop floor with barriers and prohibit employees from wandering into zones where they do not need to be to perform their jobs. Specific lanes can be created with tape on the floor, fencing chains or plexiglass walls so that workers don’t come near each other when walking through the facility.


Evidence suggests that COVID-19 may remain viable for hours to days on various surfaces, depending on environmental conditions. It is possible that an employee could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. In a shop, there are many human-machine interfaces where COVID-19 can be spread, such as buttons, keyboards and touchscreens. All need to be sanitized between users by keeping hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes next to HMIs and other surfaces. Also, shops can consider the use of laser-guided safety sensors instead of traditional steel barriers that must be regularly touched.

Remote services

For as long as COVID-19 transmission remains a risk, fabricators should minimize unnecessary contact between personnel and vendors providing supplies and services. As the industry faces down this dilemma, a rapid adoption of remote diagnostic and collaboration tools can be anticipated.

For example, in many plants, contractors responsible for safeguarding machinery have long conducted assessments face to face, using visual inspection, in-person interviews and regular follow-up visits. Physical distancing makes these established approaches more difficult, forcing suppliers to find new ways to manage their machinery safety. Machine safeguarding assessments can now be done remotely through videoconferencing.

Right now, the world—and fabrication—is undergoing a massive disruption. Fabricators have the opportunity to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with operations that are safer, more productive and more resilient. Although some of the suggested steps may take time to implement, remember that keeping employees healthy is not only the right thing to do but also makes good business sense.

Carrie Halle , vice president of marketing and business development, has more than 25 years’ experience in global business planning, branding, product management and marketing communications with leading manufacturers and safety equipment suppliers.
Rockford Systems LLC,

Rockford, Illinois, 800/922-7533,