As Michigan economy prepares to reopen, businesses scramble to find protective gear

Alfonso and a small team returned to work last weekend after the company launched a “safe return to workWebsite to sell sheet masks, face shields and hand sanitizers online with a new motto: “We take social distancing seriously.” “

Curbside pickup orders started arriving after Whitmer revised its stay-at-home order on Friday to allow landscapers, nurseries and bicycle shops to reopen, Alfonso told Bridge Magazine.

“We had a lot of landscaping companies coming in to pick up their equipment so they could get their team working safely on Monday,” she said.

“It was a good initial launch to get our systems ready, because honestly, we build the plane while it is taxiing on the runway, and once it takes off, we’ll figure out how to fly it.”

Securing personal protective equipment for employees could be particularly difficult for small businesses because some products are typically sold in large quantities, Calley said, noting that an order for 10,000 face masks does not make sense for one. company with 20 employees.

This is where a local supplier like Alfie comes in. The Traverse City firm sells 48 blank masks for $ 99 with free shipping. The company will also ship as little as 10 face shields or a four-gallon hand sanitizer package.

Hand sanitizer is manufactured by the Scholar Group, a Midland company that typically produces lubricants but has shifted gears amid the pandemic. The face shields come from Akervall Technologies of Saline, which previously specialized in the production of mouth guards for sports and sleep.

“When the sporting goods market collapsed in mid-March, we were looking at declining sales and realized we had to find something fast enough to survive,” said CEO Sassa Akervall. “It was so bad.”

After procuring materials, the company began selling face shields to the state of Michigan for use by medical workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Akervall is now ramping up production to make more masks for other businesses that may need them to reopen.

Akervall initially laid off some of its 19 full-time workers, but has since recalled those workers and hired 80 more, mostly part-time, to meet demand. The business has grown from 3,000 face shields per day to 12,000.

“I think the need is kind of endless,” Akervall told Bridge. “PPE will be here to stay, and I think hospitals and all kinds of other businesses are going to have to need it in stock. So think that there is going to be a continuing need for this.

The new normal

Whitmer has not yet clarified what the industry-specific equipment requirements will be, but its recent executive orders indicate stringent regulations that business leaders say will be widespread.

Sunday the governor ordered grocery stores and pharmacies require employees to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths, give them sufficient time off to wash their hands, and ensure that workers and customers stay at least 6 feet away from each other. other “to the extent possible”.

The ordinance also requires grocery stores and pharmacies to do “their best” to ensure that checkout workers sanitize their hands between orders, provide them and customers with hand sanitizer, and place disinfectant wipes at cash registers and points of entry.

The revision The stay-at-home order Whitmer signed last week authorized the reopening of gardening stores, nurseries, lawn care, pest control and landscaping operations.

But these companies are required to limit employee in-person interactions with customers, adopt protocols to limit tool sharing, and provide workers with gloves, goggles, face shields and masks “in accordance with the law. ‘practical activity “.

Officials at companies that have remained open for “essential” work say they have already taken many of the precautionary measures Whitmer should demand. Mandate or not, many say safety protocols are needed to make sure employees feel safe enough to return to work.

Rockford Construction in Grand Rapids, which continued some “essential” projects but suspended others, has become a “laboratory” on how to keep workers safe amid the pandemic, CEO Mike VanGessel said last week during of a conference call hosted by the West Michigan Policy Forum, which urges Whitmer to restart the economy.

“We’ve had this real-time ability to do and practice these things in preparation for what we all look forward to is returning to work shortly,” said VanGessel.

For Rockford Construction, that means thermometers and sinks on all jobsites, and a directive to move all daily meetings outside. Workers are given masks and gloves, and construction sites are sanitized daily, according to VanGessel.

TO Roulette concepts, an Albion-based manufacturing company with around 100 employees in three facilities, essential workers who stay on the job are usually scattered and not allowed to enter the job site until they have their temperatures checked, said company president Bill Dobbins.

Three times a day, the company completely sprays all work surfaces with 70% isopropyl alcohol, and each worker is also given their own spray bottle to wipe down tools and screens, he said.

“Most of our workers feel safer at work than at home, quite frankly, because they know how hard we work to make it safe,” Dobbins said.

To anticipate

Sturgis molded products, a southwestern Michigan plastic injection manufacturer, installed a hands-free clock so workers could clock in without touching a common surface. The company also installed automatic doors that can be opened on foot, said Kelly Presta, its vice president.

“We try to anticipate,” Presta said, noting that only about 10% of the company’s 200 employees currently remain on critical jobs in medical manufacturing and heavy trucking. The company is preparing its installation for the return of a greater number of workers.

In assembly areas where employees can work within 6 feet of each other, Sturgis Molded Products put a physical barrier between the work cells and installed a new ventilation system, Presta said. The company has categorized workers by risk, requiring some to wear full face shields if they have jobs that require them to move around the facility.

Fearing that a sick employee could scare others off, some companies that stay open screen employees entering their facilities and restrict access to visitors, protocols that could become standard practice under the pending reopening plan. from Whitmer.

Allowing an employee with COVID-19 to enter the building “is going to be catastrophic for the business,” said Steve London, president of Bekoum America, a key Williamston-based supplier that produces plastic extrusion molding machines that its customers use to make hand sanitizer bottles.

If an employee gets sick, “how can we shut down completely to sanitize and then get the employees back into the building with confidence?” ” he said.

Businesses need plans to respond in the event an employee contracts the virus, including tracking protocols to identify anyone an infected employee may have come in contact with, said Matt Haworth, president of Haworth, an office furniture company in Holland.

Haworth has worked with other companies to help them reinvent their office spaces to ensure proper spacing or barriers between employees.

“I believe the virus is going to be around, unfortunately, for a long time in one form or another,” Haworth said. “We really have to demonstrate that we have learned, that we continue to learn, and that we can operate safely. “