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Keeping Workers Safe from COVID-19

General Motors is instituting new policies for ventilators that likely will be carried over for cars.
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Manufacturing protocols are designed to optimize throughput, consistency, quality and safety. Now a new mandate is being added: protecting workers from the coronavirus. 

Such guidelines already are being implemented by companies producing ventilators, respirators and personal protection equipment for healthcare professionals. The effort includes a steadily increasing number of carmakers and suppliers that are converting their plants to help fight the global pandemic.

GM’s COVID-19 Work Protocol

Employees at GM’s Kokomo, Ind., facility will produce ventilators. (Image: GM)

General Motors has begun to train workers at its Kokomo, Ind., plant who will begin making Ventec VOSC ventilators later this month. More than 1,000 employees eventually will be part of the program.

In addition to showing workers how to build ventilators, the training includes several CDC-recommended procedures and other new safety measures such as:

  • Checking each person’s temperature (with a non-contact thermometer) as they arrive for work and requiring them to immediately sanitize their hands
  • Wearing medical-grade protective masks, including units produced at GM’s Warren, Mich., plant
  • Employing 1-person workstations positioned at least 6 feet apart
  • Cleaning and sanitizing common touch surfaces such as door handles, as well as common areas, at least three times per shift
  • 30-minute intervals between shifts so workers can clean their workstations when they arrive and before they leave
  • Using different doors for entering and exiting the facility to minimize contact among workers, especially as additional shifts are added

Production of the ventilators at the Kokomo site, which normally makes small electronic components, is due to begin within the next two weeks. GM plans to produce 10,000 of the devices per month sometime this summer.

Maintaining Policies When Car Production Resumes 

At least some form of the COVID-19 safety guidelines will be necessary when the auto industry starts making cars again.

Image: GM

GM says it may use the Kokomo procedures as a blueprint for its vehicle and component assembly plants when they come back on line.

Ford also plans to install cleansing, screening and distancing guidelines at its factories. Such methods will debut at the company’s Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., which is ramping up production of ventilators for GE Healthcare.

New procedures already are taking hold in China, where carmakers reopened plants last month. Volvo’s Polestar electric car unit, for example, requires workers at its Luqiao plant to have their temperature taken before starting each day and to wear masks throughout their shift.  

GM’s Speedy Response

GM is partnering with Ventec Life Systems, a Seattle-based ventilator firm, on its program. The two companies connected last month via the StopTheSpread.Org initiative, which brings together companies from various industries to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

A day after initial contact was made, GM and Ventec executives had their first conference call on March 18. The next day, a GM team flew to Seattle to meet with their Ventec counterparts. Within the next week, GM had arranged sourcing plans with suppliers and secured the UAW’s cooperation. Crews began prepping the Kokomo plant on March 25.

Greg Wohlford, the local UAW shop chairperson for the Kokomo plant, underscored the commitment of participating workers. “Our members responded to the call for help with courage and a desire to help America save its citizens’ lives. We have pledged, along with GM, to do everything we can to make sure that we keep these everyday heroes safe from illness and injury.”

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