COVID-19 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, while many others have been laid off, particularly in the restaurant, retail, aviation and hospitality sectors, which have been hit hard 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.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we haven’t had any major outbreaks, and no facilities have been shut down for significant amounts of time because of the pandemic,” Haney says as of late August. “There has been very limited impact to our customers’ operations from a workforce standpoint.”
Should employees appear symptomatic, they are sent home for a quarantine period “until they are released back to work by a licensed healthcare provider or have a negative COVID-19 test result,” he says.
"Since the start of the pandemic, we haven’t had any major outbreaks, and no facilities have been shut down for significant amounts of time,” –Brian Haney, vice president of safety and compliance for Leadpoint.
While some of the company’s employees have tested positive for COVID-19, Leadpoint has followed U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols for quarantining and returning to work.
“If someone tests positive, we work to take care of that individual and minimize the impact on the business,” Haney says. “We know that the first thing to do is an internal contact trace: Who have you been within 6 feet of for 15 minutes or more? Are there other employees who live with you? Who do you carpool with? We have also quarantined those close contacts right away.”
The company also provides proactive carpool guidance to its associates that includes ensuring proper ventilation, wearing face coverings, and taking time for decontaminating and proper housekeeping in the vehicle, he says.
Understanding the added strain the pandemic has put on workers, Haney says Leadpoint has been offering “additional counseling, supplies, lunches and flexible scheduling for family support” to try to help workers during these times.
One of the fundamental ways Leadpoint has been able to help keep workers safe is through its deployment of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We continue to be successful in our ability to provide PPE 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.
Early in the pandemic, the company instituted disinfection procedures, particularly in areas where potentially symptomatic employees had worked. In early April, Haney told Recycling Today, “We have a daily routine that is done at regular intervals. Should an employee show up with symptoms, we would use the same process; we immediately add another cycle to that daily routine.”
Leadpoint uses disinfectants, cleaning materials and habits that were recommended early on by the CDC, including 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.
However, how the company has gone about its cleaning has evolved along with the scientific community’s understanding of how the disease is spread. “We’ve had to change our program as the CDC modified its guidance,” he says as of late August. “For example, surface contact was originally a major concern at the start of the pandemic, but now we know that it isn’t a major route of transmission. Stringent cleaning protocols have remained in place, but we’ve put more emphasis on face coverings and social distancing as the more effective behaviors for reducing spread,” Haney adds.
Early in the pandemic, if an employee tested positive for the virus, an outside firm often was hired to decontaminate the facility, he says. “Now, we know that the way to prevent an outbreak is with face masks and social distancing.”
Haney says Leadpoint has enforced social distancing and the use of face coverings. “We believe that’s why we haven’t seen outbreaks,” he says.
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, he 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 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.
With the extra precautions workers have had to take over the last 6 months, Haney says many of its customers have recognized the value of the company’s outsourced employee teams during the pandemic.
“Some [customers of ours] 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.”