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Manufacturing: returning to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic

3. Protecting people from coronavirus

The following guidance gives practical advice for manufacturing businesses on how to manage the risks of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace.

You can find general advice for businesses during the coronavirus pandemic in our working safely guidance. It includes practical measures such as putting in place social distancing measures, staggering shifts, providing additional handwashing facilities, how to talk with workers to help them stay safe and provides useful links to other government guidance.

Who should go to work

You should consider the tasks that need to be carried out as a priority. This will allow you to plan the order in which workers will return to site and in what number. This is important when determining local site rules around social distancing, cleaning and hygiene procedures etc.

Social distancing in the workplace

Wherever possible, you should:

  • reduce the number of people on site to those essential to ensure safe maintenance and operation of plant and equipment. You can do this by staggering shifts or working patterns. If you can’t, allocate shift teams to reduce social interaction (sometimes known as a cohort).
  • reduce physical interaction for machinery and process operations, shift handover, maintenance and intervention tasks. For example, by using handover log sheets and remote telephone calls.

Driving mobile plant

Where mobile plant is made available on site for multiple workers to use, such as forklift trucks, excavators and cherry pickers, there could be cross-contamination from holding steering wheels, joysticks and other vehicle controls. Consider a combination of the following to reduce the risk of transmission:

  • cleaning of the machine cab by workers after every use.
  • formal cleaning procedures for vehicle cabs after use and end-of-shift.
  • dedicated operators for mobile plant and rider operated trucks.
    • installing a key-card access system for the vehicle entry and ignition system to restrict access to individual workers and to prevent the handling of vehicle cab/ ignition keys by multiple people.

Supervision and observation

You can often do supervision or process observation remotely, using existing CCTV systems or by introducing it. This will reduce close physical contact and proximity between workers.

Shop floor meetings

Hold discussions between supervisors and operators away from the work area using remote working tools, with other people being able to join. This can also be used for machinery setup.

Partitioning off areas

For large open plan offices, workshops, production or communal areas, you may need to divide-off these areas to limit occupancy or work activity in any given area, segregating workers and helping to ensure social distancing is maintained. This is often referred to as creating ‘work zones’.

Although originally intended for Hazardous Area Classification and Control of Ignition Sources, you can use our advice on plant layout when considering general zoning of work areas.

By providing automated systems to register sign-in and sign-out of a work zone, you can control and limit the number of people in any work area. An example of such an automated access control system is the Radio Frequency Identification or RFID system.

Limiting user numbers

To help with social distancing, you will need to limit the number of people using the following at the same time:

  • passenger lifts.
  • temporary suspended access platforms, such as construction hoists and painters' cradles.
  • multi-user mobile plant, such as mobile elevated work platforms, scissor lifts.

You will also need to consider ways of restricting the number of users. This may include de-rating of safety alarms (for example, to reduce load capacity) or using access control to limit numbers in many cases.

Page last reviewed: 5 October 2020

Next review due: 2 November 2020

Updated 2020-09-16