Manufacturers Share Knowledge, Best Practices During Reopening

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition will conduct a virtual meeting today with its membership to share best practices and ideas for re-entry into business as Ohio moves to reopen the economy that’s been strangled for five and half weeks by the coronavirus.

While most of the 20-plus members of the coalition have continued to work as essential businesses under Gov. Mike DeWine’s partial business shutdown and stay-at-home order issued March 23, smaller manufacturers either temporarily shut down or furloughed staff as orders and production have slowed during the pandemic.

Jessica Borza, executive director of the coalition, points out that many of the companies who have been working have been able to figure out safety protocols and how to keep their employees safe during production. Borza says she sees the meeting being one of mainly information sharing on best practices and maybe what some companies still need to do to reopen.

“I see our role as the MVMC, as a facilitator for information sharing and problem solving among our members so that we can get more people back to work but do it in a safe manner,” Borza says 

DeWine and his administration are rolling out a gradual reopening starting with medical procedures offices, dental and veterinarian services tomorrow. 

Manufacturers, contractors and distributors who haven’t been operating as essential businesses will open May 4 and consumer retail and services are set to reopen May 12 as the first phase approach.

DeWine stresses that while the state was aggressive in shutting down as cases and deaths from COVID-19, the disease spread by coronavirus, began to surge in Ohio by mid-March, he is taking a cautious approach at reopening for health and safety reasons as to not spike a second surge and overwhelm hospital systems. As of April 28, Ohio has 17,303 cases of COVID-19 and 937 total deaths. 

Besides strict health monitoring, DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who is leading the business efforts to reopen, have laid out requirements and guidelines for businesses to follow in order to operate. 

Hynes Industries, a long-time manufacturer has its massive manufacturing plant and headquarters located on Henricks Road in Austintown, has been operating and utilizing safety protocols that state leaders have urged.

Greg Billock, plant manager for Hynes, says due to the plant’s size, they were able to enforce physical distancing of six feet between employees. 

“By staggering our shift times and running three shifts, enforcing the distancing and other measures our entire production plant is working just by doing what we’ve be able to do,” Billock says.

The plant employs about 100 people. Billock credits the cooperation of the shops union president for being 100% cooperative and supportive through the changes. 

All employees have their temperatures taken before working, and it gets recorded. Hynes also has a nurse on staff. 

Billock says they have a janitor assigned full time to cleaning and disinfecting and making sure there is ample supply of hand sanitizer and paper towels. 

“Even in the lunchroom, we staggered shifts, moved tables so we don’t have people sitting at the same tables. It took some alterations, but it worked out,” he says. 

Hynes produces custom metal products such as strip steel, roll-formed shapes, flat wire and slotted angle items for customers in the truck/trailer, solar, electrical, commercial building and consumer products industries.  

Billock says it took about two weeks to get changes made thanks to tireless hours put in by human resources starting early to plan and buy items needed, setting up cleaning stations and buying all the cleaning products.

“The hardest thing was trying to find supplies, especially disinfectant supplies, to buy,” he says.

Some of the provisions in order to reopen first announced by the governor April 27 were walked back after the administration received complaints concerning wearing face coverings.

On Monday, DeWine made it mandatory to wear some sort of face covering after the 20-member economic advisory group composed of business leaders from around the state unanimously agreed that wearing face coverings should be required of all customers and employees.

But DeWine amended the order a day later, lifting the mandate for customers to wear a face covering after receiving complaints that being required to do so inside businesses would be, in some instances, impractical. He also said complaints were made that government was stepping a little too far by issuing a mandate.

Husted outlined some exceptions to the mandate for employers and employees during Wednesday’s briefing.

All employers and employees are required to wear face coverings with exceptions given to the following conditions:

  • When an employee in a particular position is prohibited by law or regulation from wearing a face covering while on the job.
  • When wearing a face covering goes against documented industry best practices.
  • When it’s not advisable to wear a face covering because of health reasons.
  • When wearing a face covering is a violation of the company’s safety policies.
  • When the employee is sitting alone in an enclosed workspace.
  • When there is a practical reason a face covering can’t be worn by an employee. Examples are individuals who work under extreme heat conditions, so the mask would be soaked with sweat almost immediately. Or if there needs to be a clear line of communication between workers and the mask could create a safety concern.

“These are all exceptions for employers and employees,” Husted said.

For any employer or employee who feels they qualify for one of the exceptions, they must be able to provide written justification upon request, he said. Businesses are still permitted to require customers to wear face coverings within the business.

“Besides sharing information, we know that our members are going to have questions as things are changing daily and want to discuss information coming out of the governor’s briefings,” Borza explains.

Billock says wearing a face cover has been optional. The company issued masks, and some workers had masks made. “Some wear them and some don’t.”

Business has been good but has slowed down with other customers pushing out. “The plant was furloughed last week, just for one week,” Billock says.

Ethan Karth, president and CEO of Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, or Magnet, says they have taken a lead since the stay-at-home order was enacted by providing insights to help lead companies through the challenging times and then with transitioning to reopen.

Magnet has a free tool kit for manufacturers who are dealing with the effects of coronavirus, including articles and information on getting back into work, anxiety, as well as a deep dive on offering information for the Payroll Protection Program.

“I know of tons who qualified – big and small – we had some people tell us they got it and others who said they didn’t. We’re definitely trying to help by putting out fact sheets and do some of the hard tasks. I spent hours with lawyers for communications to get out to employers,” Karp says. 

He said the tool kit is available and Magnet is available to talk and help. 

“We can even provide someone to walk the plant with you and assess your reconfiguration, provide you with checklists, policies and compliance information and information on how to think about supply chain now and in the future,” Karp says.

He says he doesn’t have any projections on how many manufacturers may not be come back this crisis. 

“I hope it’s a small amount, but if they don’t it’s not due to the coronavirus, it’s due to however deep our recession is after coronavirus,” Karp says. “It’s not that manufacturers can’t survive this crisis, it’s about surviving what follows and how long it takes for the economy to come back.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.