Pandemic Plan: Automakers rally to restart production using safety protocols from China

Toronto, Ontario ⁠— Automakers worldwide are rallying to restart factories using safety protocols developed for China.

Automakers and suppliers are converging on a consensus that temperature screening, daily health questionnaires, assembly lines redesigned to keep workers three to six feet (0.9 m to 1.8 m) apart, and plenty of masks and gloves can allow large-scale factories to operate safely.

Other safety measures differ depending on the company. On Wednesday, Ferrari said it would offer voluntary blood tests to employees who wanted to know if they had been exposed to the virus⁠—though General Motors’s head of workplace safety, Jim Glynn, said GM is unconvinced blood tests are useful. 

Glynn said GM has studied and adapted measures taken by Amazon to protect warehouse workers, such as temperature screening to catch employees with fevers before they enter the workplace. GM has relaunched vehicle plants in China and kept factories running in South Korea, he said.

GM has not said when it will reopen assembly plants in North America. Other automakers are putting dates out in public, even though health officials and federal, state and provincial policymakers in the United States and Canada are wary of lifting lockdowns too soon.

FCA has not commented on specific measures.

For the Detroit automakers, Unifor in Canada and the UAW in the United States will play a key role in deciding when and how plants will restart.

UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement on Wednesday the union is in “deep discussions with all three companies to plan ahead over the implementation of CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] safety standards and using all available technologies to protect all UAW members, their families and the public.”

Among the union’s concerns is that members who report being ill can take time away from work without penalty, Gamble added.

Unifor has said it will rely on the advice of experts and health officials when working with the automakers in deciding when to return to work.

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