The COVID-19 pandemic affected every industry, every geography, and every workforce role. Health experts have indicated that the impacts of COVID-19 will likely be around for the foreseeable future. Industry executives need to turn the page: What’s been done has worked. Now it’s time to take an extended approach at plants. 

By Scott Tvaroh, Global Digital Industrial Workforce Lead, Industry X

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Over the long term, which protection solutions fit with regulatory requirements, the plant environment, and budgets? | Image: Trade

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There is a lot of media coverage on office employees returning to corporate buildings. We believe there is more value to focus on workers at industrial operations, those with essential jobs who have been fighting through implementing ever-changing procedures and solutions to advance worker protections. The measures put in place at the plants have been successful—and now it’s time to take an extended approach to support the industrial workforce for longer-term pandemic risk.


Review workforce protection from end to end

During initial activities, many companies focused directly on surveys, testing, and contact tracing. Other measures were added such as social distancing, workplace procedures, sanitation requirements, and temperature monitoring. These tactics have been largely effective. For office employees, many companies will continue to support remote work as the primary safety course of action where it makes sense.

Operations improvements often start by reviewing end-to-end processes. Similarly, COVID-19 requires the consideration of the holistic journey for employees across their workday. What short-term protections are available on the market? Over the long term, which solutions fit with regulatory requirements, the plant environment, and budgets?


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The five phases of workforce protection against COVID-19 in manufacturing

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Phase 1: Communication and checks for pre-work arrival

Trust is a key component to any safety initiative. Most businesses at a minimum require some sort of health attestation survey prior to coming to work. Some leading organizations spend significant efforts to clearly define pandemic procedures, develop training programs, evaluate employee sentiment, and advance new testing procedures and timing. As we learn more and CDC guidelines change, it will continue to be important to update these solutions to match the changing environment.


Phase 2: Pre-entry wellness compliance

Companies have put in place digital measures to provide compliance checks at entry into a workplace. These compliance checks range by type of industry but generally include: completed health attestation survey, temperature reading, plant protective equipment (PPE) check, hand sanitization, and essential staffing schedule timing.

Depending on the facility, compliance checks can even take the form of “hard compliance,” such as shutting down entry into the plant without validation. “Soft compliance” checks are reports of noncompliance or a missed test. With advancements and speed of testing, many larger institutions are providing on-site testing capabilities and/or integrating with other testing organizations.


Phase 3: Post-entry awareness and procedure execution

Once inside the facility, a mix of solutions can be deployed to enable awareness. Many workers are familiar with these, as they are the same as public spaces:


  • workspaces separated for distance,
  • barriers provided between workstations where required,
  • sanitation points,
  • enforced procedures, and
  • increased signage.

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A growing number of physical distancing tools have come on the market to support local notification regarding distance encroachment. Which means, as the ecosystem of awareness devices continues to grow, privacy concerns and regulatory guidelines will also continue to change and tighten.

Take, for example, some recent public sector initiatives. The Austria Red Cross worked with Accenture to develop a custom “Stop Corona” App to log contacts anonymously and send early notifications to potentially exposed people. We also worked with Singapore to launch TraceTogether, a mobile contact tracing app based on voluntary public registration. These and other tools are based on Bluetooth signal strength and provide some basic awareness capabilities within the constraints of the technology.


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Advanced companies are installing platforms to integrate different solutions across various workforce needs and capture data from multiple sources.

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There are Ultra Wideband (UWB) wearables with extreme accuracy for awareness as well. Many companies are dabbling with pilots, however, there has yet to be a single leading approach in this space. Industrial operators need to evaluate risk levels and be flexible to adjust the approach based on specific plant environments, as well as extended use cases leveraging these same technologies and data.


Phase 4: Monitoring/risk analysis

Advanced companies are installing platforms to integrate different solutions across various workforce needs and capture data from multiple sources. These platforms enable operations managers to build a command center with real-time alerts and data analytics to support further risk reductions.

Command center tools evaluate employee density alerts, provide contact duration alerts, and indicate presence in location-based risk areas; where allowed by local privacy laws. We also see the input of density monitoring data to prioritize sanitization activities. The command center can support adjustments to workplace scheduling as well.


Phase 5: Triage and tracing

In the event of a confirmed diagnosis or risk, it is important to have tools to support an efficient triage journey. These tools help manage the full process for the diagnosed employee, as well as evaluating the risk toward others—what is normally defined as contact tracing tasks. Accenture supports the advancement of these processes to enable more automated contact tracing input. Automation is a key strategy to accelerate tracing activities within private companies. This advanced automation is currently integrated to Salesforce’s solution:


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Return to Workplace with Accenture and Salesforce

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Any approach to triage and tracing requires consultation with corporate lawyers to comply with privacy laws. Most jurisdictions require contact tracing to be “opt-in,” consents not only at time of starting the tracing, but constant reminders to re-consent. Other requirements may include very tight controls with real-time employee consent for release of contacts to the employer.

The use of location services will also be another area to evaluate closely. This feature can provide the ability to geofence areas for usage as well as provide location-based density controls. However, in some regions, location data is considered to be personal data. Triage and tracing are an evolving space and operations managers will need to carefully watch the continuing advancements.


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Preparing for the second wave

I have been working with industrial workforces for decades and I have been happy to see low-cost, manual procedures effectively weather the initial pandemic storm. But health officials have warned of a second wave of coronavirus infections during the upcoming winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Now is the time for vice presidents of manufacturing, operations managers, and plant leaders to think through the full end-to-end workforce protections—as employees return to the office and to further support essential workers at the plants.


About the author

Scott Tvaroh

Scott is the Global Digital Industrial Workforce Lead in Industry X at Accenture. He focuses on the industrial field worker and supervision to drive improved worker experiences, improved productivity and improved worker safety through the use of current and evolving technologies extended into the plant environment and integrated across legacy systems. Get in touch with Scott via LinkedIn.

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