From one thing to another. Some risk and safety implications when repurposing operations to support COVID-19 relief
As COVID-19 continues to impact all of us around the world, many companies are mobilizing to respond to the sudden, urgent need for vastly greater stocks of diverse medical supplies and equipment. Breweries and distilleries are turning from producing beer and spirits to making hand sanitizers and other alcohol-based disinfectants. Cosmetic companies are pivoting from face creams and perfumes to medical disinfectants and sanitizer gels. Apparel makers are shifting from sewing shirts and dresses to face masks for the public and surgical gowns. Appliance manufacturers are converting their operations to produce ventilators.
AXA XL supports and applauds these efforts.
This article highlights some common safety and risk management issues when companies go from producing one thing to another. It isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list as many safety/risk considerations are unique to individual company operations. Also, classified medical devices that are subject to specific regulations involving testing and certification, like the EU’s Medical Device Regulation, are outside the scope of this article. Nonetheless, we hope this guidance provides companies with useful starting points for identifying and addressing possible safety/risk implications when repurposing their production lines to address the pressing needs posed by the COVID-19 emergency.
Changing any production process to manufacture different products can create unforeseen hazards. Thus, before venturing down this path, companies should refer to their established change management procedures to ensure that safety, health and environmental risks and hazards are identified and properly controlled.
This includes training employees in managing the changes introduced. The safety of employees is paramount, as whenever something changes in a manufacturing environment, there is often an heightened risk to employees unless they are properly trained. It is essential that employees understand any new processes and/or materials and what needs to be done differently. This is critical not only to avoid mistakes and minimize various operational risks but also for their own safety.
There has been a lot of press coverage about distilleries and craft breweries retooling their operations to produce sanitizers and alcohol-based disinfectants, and apparel manufacturers switching from making clothing to masks, surgical gowns and related products. In these and similar examples, the processes and/or materials used to produce the new end products could worsen the fire risks.
Hand sanitizers, for instance, usually have an alchohol level around 70 percent while in spirits like whiskey and gin, it is typically about 40 percent. Likewise, the tissue or non-woven fabrics used in sanitary masks pose a greater fire risk compared to other fabric types. The fire load of synthetic fabrics, for instance, is double that of natural fibers, and the fire spread with lightweight tissue also can increase dramatically.