So, what does it take to reopen a tire plant in the wake of a global pandemic? Safety measures—and plenty of them.
Bridgestone Americas Inc. said it has developed an Environmental Health Safety & Sustainability Playbook that outlines all measures that must be taken at every location in North America before it reopens, in order to promote safety.
The playbook has served as the blueprint for restarting operations in late March of Bridgestone's commercial tire plants in the U.S. Bridgestone also reopened its Firestone Industrial Products and Firestone Building Products factories in the U.S. on April 13.
Bridgestone Bandag's tread rubber plants in the U.S. resumed operations the week of March 29, due to demand by its retreader customers, the company said.
Among the measures in the playbook are:
• Enhanced cleaning measures.
Bridgestone said it has developed specific disinfecting plans, aligning with the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They include more frequent cleaning with a special focus on regularly disinfecting high traffic, high touch areas. Dispensers with hand sanitizers have been installed in break and common areas.
Bridgestone said it continues to provide employees with information on proper social distancing and handwashing techniques and other hygiene best practices. The tire maker also said it posted information provided by the CDC about coronavirus symptoms and steps employees can take to protect themselves and others.
• Changes to sick leave/absenteeism policy.
Bridgestone said it encourages employees to stay home if they are sick and has suspended unexcused absences for COVID-19-related reasons.
In addition, Bridgestone said before plants reopen, the plant manager, safety manager and human resources manager must agree to the following steps:
• Job spaces and common areas are redesigned to limit closeness.
According to Bridgestone, each job/role is assessed for physical distancing guidelines, and measures are implemented in order to keep employees at least six feet apart. Safe work areas are marked, and in some instances, partitions and/or barriers are installed.
Employee schedules have been alternated in order to limit exposure to fellow co-workers as necessary. Chairs have been removed and/or repositioned to promote social distance in break rooms, cafeterias and conference rooms, and the clock-in process has been adjusted to minimize virus spread.
• Deployed 'Return to Work' screening.
All employees must pass a screening test, developed by the company, before they can return to work. This is to ensure any employee experiencing virus symptoms or anyone who has come into close contact with a person with the virus must be quarantined and not allowed to return to work.
• Temperature screening.
The tire maker said it has implemented, or about to implement, temperature screening at various manufacturing and retail locations. "We are working to procure additional screening equipment as we expand to sites that reopen and to sites where temperature screening is legally required," Bridgestone said.
• Masks and facial coverings.
Bridgestone said it is complying with local government directives regarding the use of masks in retail stores, which remain open for business as essential service providers.
Bridgestone said several of these measure had been put into place several weeks earlier, before temporary manufacturing shutdowns were implemented, and they continue today.
"We continue to closely monitor CDC and (World Health Organization) guidelines for virus prevention and are adjusting our response plans daily as needed," Bridgestone said.
Globally, Bridgestone Corp. said it will resume production at most of its facilities in its Europe, Russia, Middle East, India and Africa region by the end of the month, while at the same time disclosing plans to idle production in Japan.
The tire maker restarted production at tire plants in Bari, Italy, and Bethune, France, on April 20 and 21, and a retread products factory in Lanklaar, Belgium, on April 20. Bridgestone closed these and other plants globally in mid-March.
Earlier this month, Bridgestone restarted work at its plants in Burgos, Bilbao and Puente San Miguel, Spain, and Ulyanovsk, Russia.
Bridgestone is idling production at 11 facilities in Japan—including eight tire plants—for up to six days between April 29 and May 8 because of "market situation and decline in demand." The temporary shutdowns are scheduled around Japan's three-day public holiday running May 3-6.
The tire plants affected are in Fukuoka, Hikone, Hofu, Kurume, Nasu, Tochigi, Tosu and Yamaguchi. In addition, a steel cord production unit in Saga will be closed from May 1-8 and hydraulic hose production at plants in Kumamato and Seki will close May 1-2 ahead of the holiday.
Bridgestone plants in India and South Africa will remain closed for now.