The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way much of the world works as we engage in social distancing to try to limit the outbreak of the disease. Those who can are working remotely, others have been laid off, particularly in the restaurant, retail, aviation and hospitality sectors, which have been hard hit by the outbreak. However, many material recovery facility (MRF) personnel continue to report to work during the outbreak, as the waste and recycling sector has been deemed essential in many areas of the country.
Keeping these workers safe during the outbreak is a primary concern for Brian Haney, vice president of safety and compliance for Leadpoint. The Phoenix-based company provides MRF workforce outsourcing solutions to some of the largest operators in 15 states across the country, he says.
“At this point, no Leadpoint employee has tested positive for COVID-19,” he says as of late March. “We are doing everything we can to keep it that way.”
Leadpoint has been offering “additional counseling, supplies, lunches and flexible scheduling for family support” during the outbreak, Haney adds.
“We also feel many of our customers have recognized the value our outsourced employee teams bring. Some have really stepped up in their role as well, understanding the challenges, adapting operations and, in a few [cases], [providing] additional compensation for those teams that are putting forward such heroic efforts,” he says.
“We continue to be successful in our ability to provide PPE (personal protective equipment) to our employees to keep them safe at work,” Haney says. “Some sites have historically used N95 dust masks, but since they are not mandatory in our work environment, we have provided alternatives for our employees,” he says, referring to the masks that hospital and other frontline workers have been using to protect themselves from the virus as they tend to the ill. “This has allowed us to partner with our suppliers and customers to donate our stock of N95 masks to hospitals and first responders.”
Haney says Leadpoint’s business model involves placing on-site management at its customer locations. “This allows our local supervisors to observe employees at the beginning of [the] shift and to have discussions with the team about staying home if they are sick.”
He says symptomatic employees are sent home for a quarantine period “until they are released back to work by a licensed health care provider or have a negative COVID-19 test result.”
Leadpoint also has instituted disinfection procedures, particularly in areas where potentially symptomatic employees have worked. “We have a daily routine that is done at regular intervals,” Haney says. “Should an employee show up with symptoms, we would use the same process; we immediately add another cycle to that daily routine."
He says Leadpoint uses disinfectants, cleaning materials and habits that have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, which include a minimum cleaning schedule at the start of the shift; immediately before and after each break, including lunch; and at the end of a shift.
“Each location should have at least one person per shift dedicated to ongoing cleaning of common areas,” Haney says.
Areas of focus include door handles, phones, benches, microwave ovens, tables, chairs, control panels, switches, vending machines, bathrooms, waiting areas, lobbies, training rooms, keyboards, time clocks, PPE and cabinets.
“We ensure that the personnel responsible for cleaning are issued appropriate PPE and are instructed on proper personal hygiene,” he says. “They need to be diligent about wearing PPE and washing hands/avoiding touching their face, etc.”
To adhere to social distancing policies, Leadpoint’s MRF employees have taken to holding safety meetings outside or in open areas to allow for increased social distancing, Haney says. The company also is encouraging employees to take breaks outside or in their cars, away from co-workers, and to stagger break times to limit the number of employees to 10 or fewer when possible.
Leadpoint also has eliminated the use of time clocks to prevent lining up to punch in and to eliminate the touchpoint of biometric time clocks, he says.
The company also is allowing for a minimum 30-minute gap between shifts, which provides an opportunity to react to potential situations and limit the number of employees affected, Haney says. Shift interactions and overlap also have been limited. “Transition employees, like supervisors who are required for any reason to stay behind, should properly wash their hands and ensure the facility is cleaned prior to the next shift arrival,” he adds.
While Haney says Leadpoint continues to see steady staffing for MRF employees across the country as of the start of the last week of March, he adds that the material stream entering MRFs has shifted to reflect the changes in the broader economy related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The incoming materials have shifted from a commercial mix to primarily residential, as many offices and retailers are closing or reassigning staff to work from home. The increase in residential material is more than making up for the tons lost in commercial materials.”