Daily life has been upended by COVID-19, and all the uncertainty and disruptions Americans are experiencing in our normal routines have likewise impacted material handling installation projects. I learned this first-hand recently, while spending time at a customer site as our team constructs a new conveyor line to expand their current operation.
With associates still working in the building, there were a number of additional, pandemic-related health and safety precautions requested by our customer that we took very seriously. Simultaneously, however, staying on track with the project timeline was also of critical importance. As a resource manager supporting the managers on-site as they try to balance both objectives – while also overseeing the installation and contractors – I wanted to share some insights based on my experience. My goal with this post is to help facility owners as they navigate similar installations during these most unusual times.
First and foremost, frequent communication is key. (Of course, this is true of every project!) However, in a situation which is extremely fluid – with the latest news about the virus dominating the media continually and best practice recommendations about how to prevent the spread of contagion shifting routinely – the frequency of conversations between supplier and customer representatives at every level should be significantly increased. Doing so will minimize confusion, as well as allow both parties to work together to find satisfactory resolutions to issues that will inevitably arise during these uncertain times.
Some of the key topics for discussion include:
- Review On-Site COVID-19 Safety Requirements. Both parties should review the facility’s pandemic safety requirements routinely to ensure compliance, particularly as these instructions could change frequently. Mandates might include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks or gloves; maintaining a minimal distance of 6 feet apart; routinely sanitizing shared equipment, forklifts, and surfaces after each use; daily documentation of all team members on site; and passing through a thermal scanner every time the building is entered.
- Discuss How Those Requirements Will Be Enforced. Will the facility operator assign someone to monitor the installation team to ensure compliance with COVID-19 requirements? Or will the installation team need to dedicate a member to do so? How will violations be handled? How will the installation work area be secured to ensure separation from facility associates? What printed safety information should be posted in the work area? How often should supervisors review the safety requirements with the installation team? Working together ensures that both sides understand the facility owner’s expectations.
- Consider Possible Exceptions to COVID-19 Mandates. While maintaining a 6-foot distance between personnel filling orders may be possible, it can be difficult to do so when installing runs of conveyor or when reading and discussing configuration blueprints. Both sides should discuss potential scenarios such as this one to determine the safest, most appropriate way to manage these situations.
- Discuss the Potential for Time Overruns. Contractors obviously want to respect the customer’s requirements while on the job – nobody wants to be the source of an infection that prompts an operational shut down. At the same time, these additional measures are likely to add time or require more workers on the project site. It’s the responsibility of the contractor to discuss those potential overruns and team additions as soon as possible and work with the customer to make timeline and cost adjustments as necessary.
- Confirm Alternative Sourcing for Delayed Supplies. Supply chains worldwide are under tremendous pressure to maintain their shipment and delivery commitments. In spite of many manufacturing and distribution operations being considered essential operations, there are still challenges related to staffing and keeping up with demands. Discuss alternative sourcing options, as well as anticipated delays, with solutions providers in order to formulate backup plans to minimize project slowdowns.
In my recent experience, having regular discussions with our customer at each level of contact was tremendously helpful to ensuring our team satisfied their COVID-19 safety and health requirements. Additionally, installation supervisors increased the amount of communication with the install team, adding a brief verbal reminder at the start of each day and verifying that all communal tools and vehicles were sanitized upon completion of use. Installation team members also worked together to help each other follow the mandates; for example, cordially reminding their colleagues to frequently sanitize personal smartphones and tablets, to change disposable gloves often, and to avoid touching their faces.
Ultimately, as in every project, ensuring success means working together and communicating expectations. For us, adding the customer’s COVID-19 safety requirements into our standard operating procedures – and increasing the frequency of discussions between both parties – quickly became part of the routine. That minimized project disruptions and kept the timeline on track.
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Brian Niccum, Manager of Site Management, firstname.lastname@example.org
With 20+ years in the industrial, baggage and material handling industries in both airports and distribution warehouses, Brian has developed and refined an expertise in electro-mechanical conveyance installations. In his career he has worn several hats – from an apprenticeship level to superintendent, and now proudly wears one as our Manager of Site Management. Brian has a love for comedies, sports and more importantly his family and 3 bulldogs. They thoroughly enjoy Disney trips as well as spending time at the beach and in the Smokey Mountains.