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Maintaining productivity with a socially distanced workforce

Social distancing and other COVID-19 workplace requirements continue to challenge industrial sector businesses – pushing them to think and operate differently. 


Some businesses are adapting by implementing new systems, processes and technologies – others have responded by pushing back on major maintenance events. Here we examine how the current restrictions are affecting businesses in this sector. We also uncover ways to maintain productivity and find new efficiencies in the current COVID-19 climate. 


How is the industrial sector responding?


One of the biggest challenges affecting industrial sector businesses right now is finding ways to accommodate changing industry demand and limit exposure to COVID-19 – without inhibiting productivity. 


“The need to limit people on site and achieve social distancing is impacting our customers’ ability to deliver large maintenance programs, due to the sizable temporary workforce required to support these events,” explains Jeff Allen, Coates Hire’s National Industrial Services Manager. 


“Some Coates Hire customers are also wary of global supply chains and the impact that COVID-19 may have on industry moving forward,” says Jeff. “This uncertainty, and the demand fluctuations customers are experiencing have driven some cost cutting, and some of the delayed and scaled back projects that we’ve seen.”


Geography is another contributing factor, with businesses taking a different tack depending on where they are located. “On the east coast we’ve noticed more of a focus on deferring costs, limiting people and carefully managing operations,” Jeff explains. “We haven’t seen as much of an impact in the west, with 75% of our customers continuing with planned projects.”


One example that bucks the trend is a major oil refinery in Queensland. “With the price of oil plummeting, one customer has used this opportunity to shut down production and bring forward maintenance work,” says Jeff. “Using this time to upgrade and enhance assets will make a significant difference for this customer once the demand for oil picks up again.”


Tool hygiene to stop the spread of infection


To support equipment hygiene for customers, Coates Hire recently introduced new industrial dishwashers for cleaning tools and ultraviolet sterilisers for cleaning electrical equipment. These hygiene controls were put in place very early on to make sure all equipment is thoroughly sanitised before it goes back out for hire.


Hygiene equipment can also be made available in Coates Hire tool stores, and it is currently being used alongside hand washing basins and wellness check iPads for a COVID-friendly shutdown at a major energy plant in NSW.


Technology-enabled social distancing


Technology is another powerful tool supporting the industrial sector in adhering to current COVID-19 restrictions.


  • Using drones and other technologies to perform surveys and inspections reduces the workforce demands for these tasks and improves site safety.

  • Replacing inductions, toolbox and safety briefings with “virtual briefings” can cut down on face-to-face interactions for social distancing. This approach also minimises transit time for better tool time and productivity.

  • Mobile technologies like iPads are increasingly being used for early detection wellness checks, to reduce the spread of infection.


Physically separating the workforce


The question many businesses are grappling with is how to achieve social distancing, without inhibiting productivity. Strategically scaling down on site workforces is one strategy that businesses can employ. 


“Some workers are essential to the safe operation of industrial sites, while others perform vital roles but are not considered essential on site each day,” says Jeff. “By encouraging people like planners, managers and other similar roles to work remotely, businesses can scale down their workforce and keep all necessary roles on site to maintain efficient plant operation.”


Another way businesses are supporting social distancing is by extending shifts, and providing additional workforce facilities to support people on site. Coates Hire’s temporary accommodation range has been in high demand allowing customers to physically separate their workforce.


“COVID has forced a lot of businesses in a lot of industries to think differently about maintaining efficiency and finding new strategies to support a socially distanced workforce,” says Jeff. “And like many businesses, Coates Hire has adapted its processes, technologies and workforce strategies too.” 


Coates Hire has implemented physical barriers and place markers to encourage social distancing in its branches, and displays frequent reminders on hand and general hygiene. Contactless delivery and dedicated drop off locations have also been established for returned equipment. “Thankfully there are a lot of really simple things that businesses can do to adapt and operate efficiently, despite current restrictions,” says Jeff.


For COVID-19 OHS guidance and information on workplace restrictions that affect your business, check out Safe Work Australia’s COVID-19 workplace portal. For all your equipment hire needs reach out to Coates Hire today – or find your local branch.

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