Seattle was the first major metro area in the US affected by COVID-19. As a community, it has taken to heart what Governor Jay Inslee and influential locals have been advising regarding protecting the public and the workforce. In order to bend the curve, social distancing policies are being adhered to with incredible vigilance, not just at home but in the workplace. In particular, in facilities where workers share close physical proximity to co-workers, everyone needs to get in the boat metaphorically in order to get the economy moving again. The good news is, Seattle and the Puget Sound area seem headed in the right direction and work lights are flickering back on slowly but surely.  

Inside Boeing’s manufacturing facilities which assemble aircraft including the 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787, production slowly restarted on April 20, 2020. New publicly released guidelines were issued to provide confidence that the 27,000 employees can safely get back to work. It is monumental for Boeing to begin manufacturing again. Taking note of how Boeing has managed to accomplish this is a roadmap for other manufacturing businesses. 

Partners like Spirit AeroSystems which construct the fuselage for the 737 are also following CDC guidelines and offering additional protective equipment and hand sanitizer to employees. While assembly hangars are large and cavernous spaces compared to typical open-space office layouts, they inevitably have plenty of people passing within a 6-foot radius of each other throughout the normal workday. Here are some of the guidelines that were made public during the last two weeks to show the company is going to do all it can to protect its workforce:

  • Posted notices throughout its facilities to remind employees to wash hands and stay healthy
  • Enhanced cleaning procedures
  • Spread-out work areas with floors marked for proper 6 ft social distancing
  • Voluntary temperature screening with no-touch thermal scanners
  • Required face masks and protective gear at work

In addition to these changes, a phased restart of production systems is being adjusted to accommodate for different shift hours for all employees, according to Stan Deal, CEO of Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes division. Standards for how many people are allowed around each other are being updated on a weekly basis. Face masks, gloves, head shields, chest protection, and in other cases entire head-to-toe outfits are being provided to staff. 

Easily deployable technologies to help identify “hotspots” – areas inside facilities where there seem to be a high rate of transmission – are a must-have for any facility going forward. Over a short period of time with enough data points received, a company can quickly see where problem zones are. This data will help operations and production managers make necessary alterations and worker route changes to avoid more congested locations. Rapidly deploying systems with minimal infrastructure or using existing infrastructure is key to rolling out worker safety systems quickly. 

Inevitably, hotspot detection will help improve how people work together and lead to a safer work environment. The goal is to get manufacturing and operations moving again. To do that well means identifying new ways for everyone to work in unison, even if just a tad further apart.