The current state of the tire and rubber products industry is no different than much of the rest of the nation, and the world for that matter.
A portion of the players in the sector have been deemed "essential" and have continued operations. Others have enacted shutdowns that hopefully are temporary in nature, laying off untold numbers as the U.S. automotive industry and other major customers have come to a halt. And, no doubt, owners of businesses of all sizes are wondering whether they will be able to outlast the pandemic and keep their companies afloat.
Below the surface, it was known that, at some point, manufacturing industries would have to get back to work and establish a new normal. Tire manufacturers that had idled numerous facilities slowly are unveiling plans to get operations back up and running. The same will be true of the small- and medium-size firms that, in many ways, are the lifeblood of our industry.
Bringing factories and other operations back on line is no simple task, particularly in today's COVID-19-driven environment. Doing so requires firms to carefully plan and implement procedures that protect employees. Even the best laid plans, however, can't completely lock out the virus. Unfortunately, those at Bridgestone Americas' ag tire plant in Des Moines, Iowa, are proof of that.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based subsidiary of Japan's Bridgestone Corp. had planned carefully for the reopening of its tire factories. It developed an Environmental Health Safety & Sustainability Playbook, outlining the measures it would follow at each location in North America before the sites could resume operations. Those included enhanced cleaning measures, increased employee education, changes to the sick leave policy, a redesign of common spaces, screenings for employees returning to work, temperature screenings and the use of face masks.
Bridgestone restarted its commercial tire plants in North America, including the one in Des Moines, on April 13. It also reopened its Firestone Industrial Products and Firestone Building Products factories in the U.S. that day.
Two weeks later, on April 23, Bridgestone had confirmed its first COVID-19 case at its tire factory in Des Moines. By May 2, the tire maker had eight confirmed cases.
This is critical for the tire maker, because now it's the response that matters.
Bridgestone, to its credit, was prepared for this circumstance and said it was following its rapid response plans developed through its Enterprise Crisis Management Team. This unit is monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and consulting government officials and health organizations to "coordinate risk mitigation and business continuity strategies."
Although Bridgestone did not elaborate on the access the infected employee had with other employees, the tire maker did do proper contact tracing within its facility and asked anyone exposed to the virus to self-quarantine for 14 days.
As the number of confirmed cases continues to climb, there certainly are more current active cases in our industry, and there undoubtedly will be more as the "new normal" is reached. Those organizations impacted would be well-served to follow the course Bridgestone has set.