Firms weigh measures, protocols to adapt to post-coronavirus world

ACMA executives say they are working on a detailed protocol for the industry which should be ready in a day or two
Indian manufacturers are bracing for a new reality — a fundamental change in the way shop floors are run once the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) is relaxed.

A raft of new protocols are being discussed with the government or are in the process of being finalised. For example, workers in big factories will soon be walking through fumigation chambers in order to get sanitised before they enter the premises.

The first virus check will be at the factory buses taking them to work. The workers’ body temperature will be checked with infra red thermometers, and as is the plan for flights, they will be seated with one seat vacant between them to ensure social distancing. This is one of the suggestions being considered by the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA).

CEOs agree that in the post-Covid world, all shop floors will undergo major changes, with more automation and artificial intelligence taking over some functions to ensure social distancing while pushing for productivity.

The new mood is summed up by R C Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki: “Earlier, the focus was safety so that accidents were minimised, and the aim was to get to zero. Now, it will be health, and to protect workers from the virus, so that you have zero incident of infection. The standard operating procedures (SOPs) will fundamentally change.”

Auto paints company Nippon Paints India has a twelve-point agenda for its factories once the lockdown is lifted. This includes avoiding any overlap or interaction between two shifts and sanitising the plants with the help of professional agencies, rather than in-house. The company also plans to come up with a self-declaration form to be filled by employees every day with details of their state of health. Moreover, it is buying thermal scanners, and also personal protective equipment (PPE) where needed.

Says Sharad Malhotra, president of Nippon Paints India: “Some of them are specific till the coronavirus is not eradicated. The rest would become part of SOP. We will also see a lot of automation to enhance productivity.”

Companies are also working closely with their associations. Says Ashok Taneja, managing director and chief executive officer of Shriram Pistons and Rings: “ACMA has released a protocol and companies are also working on their individual protocols. This will include everything from sanitising the shop floor to crowd management. Getting so many masks for everyone on the shop floor is a challenge, but we are working on it.”

ACMA executives say they are working on a detailed protocol for the industry which should be ready in a day or two.

In the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, noodle maker (Wai Wai brand) CG Corp Global, which has 10 manufacturing lines, has been forced to run the units at lower capacity to ensure that physical distancing norms can be maintained.

Says Varun Chowdhury, executive director, CG Corp Global: “We have suspended all internal meetings, restricted the entry of outsiders, installed thermal scanners and trained workers to adapt to measures like wearing masks.”

Mobile handset and consumer electronics manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and Foxconn have already apprised the government of the steps they are taking to ensure sanitisation and social distancing on the shop floor. These include shift-wise sanitisation of the factory, mandatory use of gloves and masks, and submitting the screening reports of every worker to the local authorities.

Some are going further. Says Avneet Singh Marwah, CEO of Super Plastronics, the brand licensee for Kodak and Thomson TVs in India: “We are planning to do thermal screening every two hours to minimise any possibility of slippage. This will ensure that if someone has fever, but is taking medication, they will be detected.”

Meanwhile, industry is waiting for protocol guidelines from the government. Says Pradeep Jain, managing director of Jaina Group, which manufactures mobile devices for global brands: “I would like to start giving orders for thermal scanners and other products we need to install at the factory, but the government has to give us the specifications. Until then, what can we do?”
The central government has just cleared the development of fumigation chambers which use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect people.

As for who has the authority to issue these protocols, legal experts say that the Disaster Management Act vests these powers on central and state governments. “Given that these powers are open-ended and general in nature, central and state governments will be within their executive authority to issue SOPs for businesses to resume operations in the event of a partial lifting of the lockdown,” says Vaibhav Kakkar, partner in the law firm L&L.

Strategic shift: Protocols companies are planning to adopt after factories reopen

• To test temperature in factory buses; keep alternate seats vacant
• Use fumigation chambers before factory entry
• Adopt more automation
• Restrict entry of outsiders
• Rework shift duties
• Use personal protective equipment for certain functions
• Sanitise shop floor after every shift

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