Questions and answers on the essential contribution of the refractory industry during the crisis
In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, a functioning critical infrastructure is imperative to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all citizens. Specific essential industries have an important responsibility in these times to continue operations, and the continuous supply of refractories is critical to virtually all of these industries.
As governing bodies across the globe continue to assess and direct virus mitigation measures such as shelter-in-place and business closing orders, they must also balance the necessity of a functioning infrastructure. To date, almost all governing bodies agree that life-sustaining or essential businesses must remain operational to support health systems operations and guarantee public safety and national security.
It is the position of the World Refractories Association (WRA) that refractory companies globally should be recognized as an essential industry that must continue to operate while maintaining the safety and well-being of our workforce as a top priority. Refractory products and services make it possible for other manufacturers to produce virtually all products that the world depends upon daily.
The following Q&As offer insights into how refractories contribute to global health and safety and the steps our member companies are taking to protect the safety of their workers in light of worldwide efforts to battle the effects of COVID-19.
How are refractories contributing to global health and safety, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our customers in the steel, aluminum, copper, glass, chemicals, energy, waste management, and pulp & paper industries are directly responsible for supplying the primary materials used to produce critically important items during a global pandemic. A few examples include hospital beds, ambulances, respirators, face masks, thermometers, and other medical supplies, such as sterile tools, packaging, and equipment. Temporary hospital sites could not be constructed without cement, or aluminum poles to erect tents. The electrical power provided is in many cases generated through refractory consuming combustion processes.
Even our global food supply is dependent upon refractories. All the cans, bottles, plastics, and paper we use to package, preserve, and transport food are derived from manufacturing processes that rely on refractories.
REFRACTORY MANUFACTURING HEALTH AND SAFETY DURING COVID-19
How has the refractory industry taken health and safety measures to protect its employees/business partners from exposure to COVID-19 infection?
Even as we must continuously produce refractories because they are critical components in customers’ supply chains, the safety and well-being of industry employees is always the top priority. At all times, the goal of our members is to serve customers’ needs across all industries in the safest, most secure, and compliant manner possible.
Since the earliest concerns about the threat of COVID-19, WRA member companies around the globe have proactively instituted measures to help keep workers healthy and lessen the potential spread of the virus. This includes abiding by all recommendations and directives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and all national, regional, and local organizations that have issued guidelines in response to COVID-19.
WRA member companies in Europe, Asia, and the Americas report taking comprehensive and similar steps within their respective organizations. Besides strict compliance with the legal requirements of each country, these measures also closely reflect recommendations of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.
Examples of WRA members’ COVID-19 response include, but are not limited to:
Planning, Communication, and Working from Home
Development and deployment of internal company COVID-19 Task Forces and/or preparedness and response plans
Ongoing communications and frequent updates by company leaders to all employees regarding COVID-19 directives and plans
Cancellation of business travel and events
Work from home provisions for all employees who can perform their jobs remotely
IT support for those working at home
Essential Plant Operations
Encouragement of employees not to report to work if they feel ill and/or believe they may have COVID-19 symptoms; call to take temperature already at home
Employees who are in contact with people affected by COVID-19 are to stay at home
Single points of entry and daily temperature measurements at plant gates
Limitations on visitors and provisions for minimal interaction during activities such as loading
Strict guidelines for truck drivers
Promotion and implementation of all hygiene and infection control best practices, (e.g., handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, etc.)
Flex-shifts and/or hours for on-site employees, to ensure social distancing, and/or avoid peak transportation commuting
Work positions kept at least two meters apart for production, warehouses, and other critical functions
Avoidance of any meetings in groups , and at a two-meter distance, if necessary; encouragement to use digital alternatives for meetings
Cleaning of sites, with common areas and entry points cleaned and disinfected up to every two hours
Some companies have also instituted mandatory wearing of masks for all workers, weekly doctor visits or telemedicine for consultations and routine checks, and construction of physical barriers (such as plexiglass guards) at points of critical interaction
What is the infection risk at refractory plants? Can social distancing be practiced?
Given the intensive processes that occurs in the manufacture of refractories, workplace safety is, and always has been, a top priority for the industry. Plant workers are accustomed to adhering to the highest standards of industrial hygiene and safety and effectively wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
By taking the COVID-19 related measures detailed above, the industry is conducting the necessary actions to minimize risk and practice social distancing, while still delivering the refractory products that are vital to the world’s critical infrastructures.