| 2:04 PM EST

The Industry in the Time of COVID-19

Getting down was fast. Getting back is hard


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There have been a tremendous number of efforts made by the women and men in this industry to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Far too many to enumerate here. If there was ever a time and a reason to be proud of the auto industry it is now. Sure, we can look back at what the OEMs and suppliers did during World War II, when the Arsenal of Democracy was established, but this time, it was the global auto industry coming together—in the U.S., Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, U.K., and so on—to innovate and retool, to make ventilators and respirators, surgical masks and N95s. To help take care of the communities where they are based and the people who are in those communities.

Back in the days of the Arsenal of Democracy the efforts were different. When the history of these days is written, it will be about the Arsenal of Life.

But make no mistake. The auto industry shut down. And this time it is different because it wasn’t just a matter of taking plants that had been closed back up and running, to essentially just turn on the lights and power up the machinery and equipment. No, there is much more involved. Much more at stake.

Because until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, people are still at risk of getting infected. While the number of deaths from the disease may be going down (this is being written at least a month before you are reading this, so the planned start of May 18 hasn’t yet happened—and may be pushed back due to ever-changing conditions) what has gotten less attention than it should is the simple fact that this isn’t a binary—Well or Dead—but that there is, as with any illness or disease, a spectrum of conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control the symptoms of C-19 include: Cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and at least two of these: Fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell.

Maybe it is just me, but I wouldn’t like to be working in any proximity to someone with those symptoms—six feet wouldn’t be enough—and it surely seems that were I to be feeling like that (“repeated shaking with chills”!), odds are I wouldn’t show up at work.

Still, there is the argument that we must get the economy going again. All of those trillions that the Federal government has dispersed are going to have to be made up some way—incrementally and infinitesimally though it may be—and that’s not going to happen until people start making and buying things (and services, too).

Which brings me back to the previous point about dealing with the risks of new—or re-infection.

Safe Work Playbook

One of the most remarkable things I’ve seen regarding how to go back to work comes from Lear Corporation. Lear is a Tier One supplier. It describes itself on its homepage as “a global automotive technology leader in Seating and E-Systems.” The Seating is self-explanatory. The E-Systems encompasses electrical distribution systems, software, electronics, and cybersecurity. Lear has people literally around the world.

Lear personnel wrote “Safe Work Playbook: An interactive guide for COVID-19 Pandemic Preparedness and Response.”  This is a comprehensive guide, an interactive PDF, developed by Lear’s Human Resources, Employee Health and Safety, Information Technology, Operations, and Communications teams. In his introductory letter to the guide addressed to other business leaders—because Lear is making this available to the entire industry—Ray Scott, Lear president and CEO, points out that it is “not a one-size-fits-all approach.” Yet it addresses everything from plant operating protocols (how things need to be set up so that things can be done in a safe manner for all involved) to signage, from what communications must be done (at various levels of the operation to various constituents) to how meetings can be conducted.

While I am certainly not a safety professional or a health expert, as someone who has had decades of experience in producing publications, I can say with absolute certainty that the “Safe Work Playbook” is a tremendously valuable and commendable undertaking.

And it is indicative of something that is characteristic of this industry in the time of COVID-19. There is not only the stunning accomplishments in terms of the PPE and vital medical equipment that the industry has produced, but it is the way it has been done: By people in the industry stepping up and simply doing the right thing—not because they were told to by the government—the industry was way ahead of Washington—but because there is an understanding we are all in this together.