DES MOINES, Iowa—Eight employees at Bridgestone Americas Inc.'s agricultural tire plant in Des Moines have tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 1, the company confirmed to Tire Business.
"We are taking every precaution, including thorough disinfection and self-quarantine of any employees who came into contact with a (COVID-19) positive employee," Bridgestone said.
The company is mitigating the situation using protocols designed to address such an outbreak. These plans were established before Bridgestone resumed production at the plant, which employs 1,050.
The Des Moines plant was among the facilities that restarted operations on April 13, and had its first employee test positive for COVID-19 ten days later. At the time, the company said the employee was in home isolation, and all other employees who may have come into contact with the affected person were asked to self-quarantine and contact a doctor if symptoms arose. The company also went through a deep clean of any areas where the employee may have been.
"We were prepared for this and are following our rapid response plans developed through our Enterprise Crisis Management Team. This team has been monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and consulting federal, state and local officials, as well as health organizations to coordinate risk mitigation and business continuity strategies," the company said.
"We developed an Environmental Health Safety & Sustainability Playbook that outlines all of the measures that must be taken to promote teammate safety before production can resume at any of our plants," Bridgestone said. "This playbook guided the restart of operations at the commercial plants and will be used to resume operations at the passenger tire plants in North America."
United Steelworkers Local 310L, which represents about 90 percent of the Des Moines plant employees, worked with Bridgestone as the facility reopened, and is working to address concerns its members have.
"(Bridgestone) has been pretty decent about responding to this," Steve Vonk, president of Local 310L, said noting that the union and tire maker have been in communication throughout the pandemic.
Prior to the restarting operations last month, several health and safety measures were put in place "with the sole purpose of keeping employees safe as much as possible."
- Pre-screening. "We called all employees prior to start-up as a screening mechanism for COVID symptoms, exposure or travel. Employees who are not contacted will not be able to work until that is complete."
- Temp checks. Bridgestone implemented non-contact forehead temperature scanning of all personnel who enter the plant. "We plan on temperature scanning employees upon entrance to the parking lots before employees have parked their cars," the company said, adding those who have a high temperature, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, will be instructed to go home and call human resources for instructions.
- Deep clean. "We have dramatically increased cleaning supplies, and employees will be able to clean their equipment prior to shift start," the company said. It also increased cleaning schedules for common areas of the plant.
- CDC guidelines. The company has adjusted operations and equipment to maintain social distancing and follow guidelines from the CDC. "That may also include reducing the number of employees at a piece of equipment, installing barriers to keep employees apart, slowing down equipment, re-routing walk ways, removing shower heads to force distance between employees, painting six-foot intervals on the floor," the company said. "For jobs that we have determined it is difficult or impossible to perform and maintain six-foot social distancing, we are supplying face coverings for those employees."
- Changes to routine. At the plant, the company has reworked areas that require frequent employee handling or touching; limited the number of people in common areas at one time; and canceled or adjusted shift and operational meetings.
There have been some hiccups with the implementation of safety measures, Vonk said, but only minor issues that can be worked through. One example, he said, was the traffic jam that the temperature checks at the parking lot entrance caused.
Bridgestone said the plant will remain in production, except for previously scheduled annual shutdowns around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, but the company will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust its response as necessary.
"The agricultural business in the U.S. is providing essential services in our communities every day," the company said. "Our ag customers are still moving, and we feel fortunate that we have been able to continue providing them with the tires they need to continue operating."