DETROIT – The Ford Motor Company has been working round the clock to make sure employees are safe and business can find a new normal amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, CEO Jim Hackett said Friday before plants reopen Monday morning.
Workers will now be screened each day with thermal imaging. They will no longer lining up to pass through turnstiles at the beginning and end of shifts. Passing during shift changes and production lines will also be altered. When asked how workers will stay socially distant during production, when they would often work inches apart before the pandemic, Hackett said they will be spread out or in some cases now work from opposite ends of a vehicle to keep the line moving while staying socially distant.
“Epidemiologists are telling us this is one of the biggest issues that we got to pay attention to. So, because we have these huge factories you know I’m talking about two to three million square feet of space, there’s a lot of room to actually think about doing this the right way.”
Should an employee test positive for the virus the company plans to use a combination of sanitation and contact tracing and possible quarantining of any other employees who may have come into contact with a positive case. The protocol, Hackett said, is outlined in a 70 page manual the company wrote to ensure and likely reassure employees and their families.
“This is going to be one of the safest place to be, frankly, from getting what we've got to do now, is if somebody catches it, then we will go into action,” he said.
The reopening comes a week after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced manufacturing could begin May 11th. Hackett said the company waited to reopen to allow smaller suppliers to come back online to start what he described as a “wave 0.” But with plants closed for so long there are questions about how healthy the supply chain will be when operations get up and running. Hackett says the push to get back open is a delicate balance.
“Automotive manufacturing is a choreographed dance and the materials flow. Just in time years ago, they'd be ordered in advance and sitting in piles. These things are used up in hours,” Hackett said. “In my business career of 26 years being a CEO. Never in other prices dealt with the economy, turning off. So, the idea of it being off is just not sustainable. And the idea of it not being safe place to work isn't sustainable so we have to have to make both of these things in the paradigms come true.”
Ford is also still planning to make ventilators and other medical equipment some of their operations had been tasked with doing over the last few months. Hackett says they plan to keep that kind of production going for at least the next year.