Employees at a LaFayette manufacturer were told Monday that a fellow team member had tested positive for COVID-19.

Roper Corp., a subsidiary of GE Appliances, a Haier company, manufactures ranges, wall ovens and cooktops under the GE Appliances, Profile, Monogram, and Café brands at its plant in LaFayette.

“We shared this (news) with them so that they will have the most accurate information about health concerns at the plant,” Senior Communications Specialist MarySusan Abell said June 22. “We understand it’s an unsettling time in our country with the growing number of cases and commit to being as transparent as we can during this time of crisis.”

Roper is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, along with guidance from public health officials. After thorough contact tracing, no coworker quarantines were required, and the employee’s work area has been thoroughly cleaned, Abell said.

In April an online petition called for Walker County’s largest manufacturer to shut down while the coronavirus pandemic raged, with petitioners asserting that human lives matter more than ranges. The plant remained open, despite the shelter-in-place order, as it was deemed an essential industry by the Department of Homeland Security.

At that time, Wendy Treinen, GE brand and product communications director, explained that GE Appliances had closed its plants for a week to implement no-touch temperature screenings, to adjust lines for social distancing, to install barriers between work stations, to provide protective equipment and to install handwashing and hand sanitizer stations throughout each plant.

“We are sincerely thankful for our employee’s commitment to manufacturing, distributing and servicing products that are essential to consumers across America,” Abell said June 22.

Health management

“Wearing face masks while at Roper became mandatory on April 27,” Abell said.

Every person entering Roper must go through touchless temperature screening, which is performed by an infrared camera, and takes just seconds.

“Over the course of one day, we screen more than 2,000 employees as they enter and re-enter the Roper facility,” she said.

Employees exhibiting signs of illness, such as fever and respiratory symptoms, are required to stay home from work and to seek medical care, and nurses are available on all shifts to respond to employee needs and concerns, she explained.

“A coronavirus concern reporting and monitoring system has been established and is staffed around the clock to receive and address employee health and exposure concerns,” she said.

An internal committee of GE Appliances and Roper leaders focused on COVID-19 meets daily to review the best actions to protect health of employees as they service, install, ship and manufacture appliances, she said.

“Public health officials have visited our facilities,” she said. “Any guidance or recommended steps are implemented immediately. And we continue to have open daily discussions with our employees on the production floors to receive feedback and suggestions for additional improvements. “

Working conditions

Every person who can do their jobs remotely has been working from home since March 16, Abell said.

GE Appliances has made changes in working conditions at its factories.

“We have completed significant work to modify our factories and how work is done in them to protect employees,” she said. “Our first priority has been to modify our jobs and workspaces to allow for 6 feet of space between employees as they work, which was necessary in only about 30% of positions.”

Where 6 feet of distance is not practicable, GE Appliances implemented other measures to provide additional protection, including Plexiglass dividers and additional safety supplies. Cafeteria and break room seating have been spread out to observe social distancing, and capacities limited, Abell explained.

Officials marked 6-foot increments on walkways and other areas where individuals may congregate throughout plants and have used signage to provide guidance for workers about the importance of social distancing and how to observe it.

“We conduct audits to monitor social distancing, address issues as employees arrive, and ensure continuous improvement in this area,” she said.

Cleaning and sanitization

GE Appliances has increased professional cleaning and disinfecting services throughout its facilities with significant additional staffing and new cleaning standards of work, she stated.

“Hundreds of additional portable hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations have been installed on the factory floors and our building grounds, adding to the existing handwashing and sanitizing stations that already existed,” she said. “Personal protective supplies are readily available for employee use, along with more than 2,600 sanitizing spray bottles and cloths for work stations.”

Regular bathroom checks have been increased to four cleanings per bathroom per shift.

“High-touch areas are cleaned multiple times per shift,” she explained. “These areas include, but are not limited to doorknobs, air guns, fixtures, tool grips, equipment touchpoints, powered industrial vehicle touchpoints, light switches, vending machines, timeclocks, tool crib countertops, touchpoints on docks and handrails.”

Community donations

The Roper plant has made several donations of new appliances throughout the area during the coronavirus outbreak, and GE Appliances continues to review and to respond to community requests as they arise.

Contributions have include donation of an oven and refrigerator to the Lyerly Fire Department; a double oven, range hood and refrigerator to American Legion Post 214; washers, dryers and refrigerators to the Chattanooga Police Department; and washers and dryer sets to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.

GE Appliances announced in April that a significant portion of the appliances made during the first two weeks of the month at the company’s nine U.S. manufacturing sites would be donated to American heroes working across the country on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Locally the company would donate 2,000 surgical masks to be divided between LaFayette Ready Clinic, CHI Memorial Hospital Georgia, and the City of LaFayette Management, Fire and Ambulance.

For more information on healthy work practices at GE Appliances plants, visit https://pressroom.geappliances.com/media-kit/covid-19-health-and-safety-of-our-employees-is-our-number-1-priority.

Catherine Edgemon is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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