Signs of further physical distancing are evident throughout the Vauxhall factory in Ellesmere Port, Wirral. Workers will be reminded to stay 2 meters apart on the factory floor by red tape hanging from the factory roof.
Marks will also be visible throughout the plant, on floors, rest areas and even in the urinals of men’s toilets.
Vauxhall is taking the lead in the UK with plans that could see Ellesmere Port, where 1,100 employees make Astra models, will reopen in a few weeks. The automotive industry across Europe has already started to reopen temporarily, after months of planning to adapt to the new production reality during a pandemic.
Volkswagen will reopen its factories in Germany and Slovakia on Monday. The Toyota of Japan announced this week that it would “gradually restart” production from its factories in France and Poland, with only one of its three usual changes underway at the start. Its two British factories are expected to remain closed until at least early May. Swedish automaker Volvo has announced that its factories in Sweden and Belgium will reopen on Monday.
David Connell, Director of Human Resources for PSA Group, owner of Vauxhall, told The Guardian that the company had worked on how to restart production as soon as it realized that the coronavirus epidemic was spreading in Europe and the United Kingdom. United – as long as they could. ensuring the safety of personnel.
Groups of around 40 workers will be trained on the new measures, which include the allocation of separate entrances for different groups of staff, and even separate ashtrays in smoking areas. Work areas and toilets will be cleaned every hour.
Face masks and eye protection will be mandatory at all times. The company also extracted YouTube videos for ideas, such as visors made by cutting a clear plastic slit. Workers can then push through the top of a baseball cap for improvised protection.
British government directives allow factories to continue operating, but automakers eventually shut down all factories in the UK as workers spread the virus. But even with the extension of the foreclosure measures, the government has supported business restart of production.
A spokesman for the British government said: “Apart from shops and non-essential public spaces, we have not demanded the closure of other businesses. This means that manufacturers in England can continue to operate, as long as they follow our clear guidelines to protect employees who cannot work from home and to ensure that work is done safely in the workplace. “
However, automakers have voiced private concerns that the lack of industry-specific guidance has made some companies fear a backlash in the event of a restart.
Matthias Holweg, professor of operations management at the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, said that reducing the rate of production was a key element in applying social distancing because it would allow workers to be more spaced out on the production line.
The automakers hired consultants as early as January to help secure vital parts as factories began to close and logistics networks were running at full capacity. The UK auto industry lobby group said on Friday that it was working with European counterparts and governments on how to “safely and successfully restart which is one of the most valuable economic assets in the world.” country”.
Yet the biggest problem may be the certainty of the recession. Businesses will find it difficult to sell many of the cars they manage to produce.
Holweg said he expects automakers to accumulate about three months of inventory, as they did during the financial crisis just over a decade ago – but “it’s an imperfect solution “, did he declare. Cars can be parked on airfields, but keeping them clean and maintained comes at an additional cost.
Showrooms will remain closed in the UK until government approves reopening of “non-essential” stores, which could mean weeks, if not months, before sales start are returning to levels close to those before the crisis.