You know those viral videos of angry people at restaurants and retailers arguing about wearing masks? People who go to a public spot and look for a confrontation with someone — anyone — about their right to be maskless?
Whenever I see one of those videos, I have the same thought: that person could never work in a manufacturing plant. They can't follow a simple safety rule.
Rules aren't for everyone, I'm afraid. That's a fact that every shift supervisor and plant manager in the plastics industry knows. Some people just can't live without answering their cellphone or bother to wear safety glasses. Or consistently pass a drug test, for that matter.
Those who can't follow the rules don't last long on the factory floor. Safety is too important. And not just the safety of the individual would-be rulebreakers, but the safety of everyone around them.
In the pandemic, plastics plants have stepped up and adopted measures to keep workers safe from a new hazard, an invisible virus that's spread via close physical contact.
More than a year ago, before most of us knew how serious the pandemic would become, I visited an injection molding plant in Pennsylvania where they were just starting to consider ways to keep workers safe from COVID. They explained to me that they were keeping some doors open so that workers wouldn't have to touch the same doorknob. That was the first COVID-related adjustment I saw in a plastics plant. It was far from the last.
Now seeing cleaning wipes, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment on the factory floor is the norm. Factory workers wear masks everywhere, and they stay a safe distance from others during breaks and lunchtime. It's all become part of the work routine.
Since good plastics manufacturing plants have a strong culture that's focused on safety, I think it's time for them to take the next step in the fight against COVID-19. It's time to strongly encourage everyone — workers and visitors alike — to get vaccinated.
We would like to think that the world is in the final throes of the coronavirus pandemic. That may be true in most of the United States and Canada, but it's not the case globally. And if we learned anything from the rapid spread of COVID-19 last year, if there's an outbreak anywhere in the world, it will be hard to contain.
Travel bans, lockdowns and masks won't do the job. We need herd immunity, and that means getting more people vaccinated.
The plastics supply chain has performed amazingly well during the pandemic, providing the products that health care workers, rapid responders — literally everyone — needed to stay safe, treat the sick, reopen schools and stay on the job.
Business is good for most plastics companies, and they have a financial incentive to keep the economy open and machines running. They also have a responsibility to aid in this effort.
I've talked with a few plastics company owners, and everyone seems reluctant to require vaccinations. That's understandable. But encouraging employees to get shots is the bare minimum.
My colleagues at Crain's Detroit Business recently editorialized on this subject, and they listed some steps that companies can take:
• Sign up for programs that bring vaccinations to the employees, just like flu shots.
• Offer bonuses to the vaccinated — sometimes with a bigger bonus once the whole company is vaccinated, as an extra incentive.
• Require employees who skip the shot to get regular COVID tests.
• Communicate clear and accurate information on the vaccine. Overcoming hesitation and unfounded fears is a process that requires consistent messages from trusted sources, and employers and co-workers qualify.
• Help employees find an appointment, and make sure they can fit getting vaccinations into their schedule.
These are steps we can take that are short of mandating vaccinations that can help us to get past the pandemic. It's time to show your team that safety really is a top priority.
Don Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.