How COVID-19 Made Employee Safety Work for Employees

Omri Shafran, CEO of Texas MedicalOver the past decade, the move toward automated hygiene, cleaning, and sanitation solutions has steadily accelerated and its effective implementation has positively impacted organizations who quickly recognized its potential value. Enhanced productivity, increased worker safety, an opportunity to repurpose labor, and improved water savings are just a few of the reasons why a growing chorus of organizations embraced the automation revolution. 

COVID-19 has served as a reminder that technology hasn’t made humans invincible and pandemics aren’t a thing of the past. Cleaning and sanitation in the workplace aren’t only to be prioritized in times of crisis, but rather critical to a business’s long-term success. 

Safety practices for employees, not for show

Before the turn of the century, employee safety primarily conformed to task procedures and equipment maintenance. Safety checks were also put in place to protect the employee, sure, but a large emphasis was placed on businesses covering their bases. In recent years, savvy decision-makers across several industries have recognized the much-greater organizational benefits employee safety could bring if the well being of workers were actually prioritized. As a result, the implementation of smart, automated systems for ensuring a safe work environment are becoming gradually normalized. Such implementation has, for many organizations, resulted in boosted workplace efficiency.

Despite normalization of workplace sanitation, many pitfalls remain with older, more traditional manual cleaning techniques like mopping and wiping. In a place where cleanliness is critical to safety and public health, the industry understood sanitation had to mean more than just scrubbing, mopping, and wiping. The most common food contaminants, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, are invariably invisible to the naked eye. Moreover, continuous manual cleaning around the clock remains impractical in most facilities. 

Picture a worker standing over a conveyor with a hose, spraying side-to-side for hours on end. This is merely one example of an undertaking where automation made a lot of sense for site managers, since it saved a worker from the tedium of drowning in menial duties, while also removing the need to expend on labor, ensuring consistent cleanliness is achieved every time. In turn, automated technology became increasingly adept at effectively warding off microscopic bacteria, mold, and fungi to prevent regrowth in the workplace. 

This shift toward automation didn’t happen overnight. An exponential rise in technological innovation has been one of the hallmarks of the last 30 years. The introduction of the internet, digitization, and increased connectivity have enabled a cascade of automated processes to be employed by forward-thinking organizations. Furthermore, awareness surrounding health and safety has progressed by leaps and bounds. Our understanding of personal safety, infection, hygiene efficacy, and germ transmission have become further refined and education on these affairs has become widely accessible. A rise in the exploration of organizational cost-effectivity has also become an industry norm, where budding new companies are constantly looking to improve and refine their own internal practices. With these developments, the landscape slowly but surely became ripe for an era of automated protocols.

When opportunity turned necessity

Once COVID-19 entered the fray, our priorities almost immediately changed across every industry. To ensure continuity of operations and essential functions, the CDC advised in November 2020 that workplaces may be permitted to continue, provided employees remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them from COVID-19. These measures included employee pre-screen checks, regular monitoring, wearing a mask, social distancing, and disinfection protocols.

Rather than just covering insurance quotas, employee safety now had to address a very real viral outbreak. The requirements to achieve safety became much more stringent, while an inability to protect employees forced several businesses to halt operations—some permanently. Such emphasis on organizational safety now became more than just an afterthought for site managers across the country, it now became integral to survival, in more ways than one.

In response, organizations scrambled to develop PPE-tailored protocols, including the provision of gowns, nitrile gloves, head covers, shoe covers, face and eye protection (face masks, face shields), and sanitization products (sanitizers, disinfection wipes). This acted as a key first step in creating smart, efficient, and effective measures to facilitate much sought-after workplace confidence.

So, was automation inevitable?

Let’s not be naive about the realities of safety and the priorities of decision-makers until relatively recently. Businesses always valued employee safety as a form of protecting the employee, sure, but more primarily to protect their own interests. It’s important to remember that it was this very same self-interest which drove forward-thinking decision-makers to begin exploring automated protocols, since greater research, dialogue, and awareness surrounding technological innovation enabled many decision makers to quickly recognize the business value of automation. In this regard, automation was inevitable because commercial diligence was constantly refining industry norms, though circumstances heavily dictated the scale and speed at which that shift took place.

By incorporating automation and robotics into production lines, automated hygiene will branch out beyond system protocols in the future. Products regularly tended to in the cleaning process—slicers, dicers, and cutters—will be manufactured with a hygienic design in mind. Smart cleaning equipment will automatically store various cleaning steps while data tracking applications will monitor sanitation steps.

About Omri Shafran:  In his years of experience, Omri has founded four companies across different industries including parking, construction, investment, and beverages. Texas Medical Technology began with simple textile gowns, but after creating disposable sanitization tools, Omri saw the need for technology that would automatically dispense solutions. After recognizing they could produce Personal Protection Equipment locally in the U.S., the company created a 144,000-square-foot gown factory in Texas, which now employs hundreds of workers.

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