Like many business owners, we are incredibly anxious to fully “open back up”. Our primary business is a research and media company serving manufacturers and other industries. While it was exempt from “close” orders because our industry is considered “essential,” we nevertheless shut our office doors in early March, requiring employees to work from home.
Reopening our Chicago office will be easy compared to what manufacturers will have to go through — and what many have gone through to maintain operations, if they were allowed to keep their facilities open throughout this time. From acquiring PPE goods (thermometers, masks, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, etc.) to implementing guidelines to maximize social distancing on the shop floor, a myriad of new requirements is critical to operate in the COVID-19 workplace.
Many of our friends and colleagues that own and manage manufacturing and distribution facilities that have stayed open have gone far beyond the basics listed above. Some have shortened or lengthened shifts to allow for extra cleaning and sanitization crews.
Others have reduced staffing levels to reduce the potential for close contact and/or staggered lunch/meal and other breaks. Some have even catered food (so individuals do not bring in their own supplies with the potential to infect others in refrigerators). Everyone is performing deep cleaning of facilities on a far more frequent basis than they ever could have imagined.
These activities are not just new workplace safety requirements (many of which we are all still waiting guidance on). They represent a new social contract designed to foster the trust of employees, contractors, suppliers and customers — and all others that come in contact with our facilities, not to mention the goods and services we all deliver.
Much of the book on best practices remains to be written. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is encouraging The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Labor and EEOC to publish “Return to Work guidance that clearly defines proper hygiene and sanitization processes and practices that employers must follow.”
Details of such requirements should include “memorandums that defines the differences between face coverings and PPE and whether using face coverings is mandatory or voluntary.” And OSHA must find a way through its policies and actions to “notify businesses that they will trigger PPE requirements (hazard assessments, testing, etc.) when they require employees to do certain tasks.”
New legal protections are also required for manufacturers, many of which NAM and other manufacturing groups have proposed to policy makers. But even more than this, the new manufacturing workplace will require new levels of vigilance when it comes to financial operations, procurement and supply chain management. All manufacturers will need to become risk managers, just like banks.
Risk is multi-layered as we enter the return to work phase. While many companies we speak with are worried about material shortages or the potential for commodity price spikes, these “supply shocks” represent only part of the risk equation. The potential for fraud, for example, whether committed by employees, suppliers or other third-parties, is omnipresent at the moment.
As we go to press, multiple parties have already been charged with fraud for attempting to steal from the CARES Act Payroll Protection Program (PPP) by submitting completely false claims of those under their employment and payroll. And that is just the beginning. Cyber risk including the potential for bank, payment and other fraud is rising as well — risks which are magnified in a world where fewer people are face-to-face to confirm details and provide assurance of their identities and requests.
Like everyone, we cannot wait to fully “open up” again. But to do so will not only require the loosening of state and local level restrictions, but the full confidence of employees, suppliers and customers — not to mention shareholders. And this must be earned through the right set of actions and a newfound vigilance in which both workers and shareholders feel protected.
Jason Busch and Lisa Reisman are Editors at Large.