Tips for Enhancing Workplace Safety and Productivity in 2021

Stay Informed

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented stress on businesses and institutions, which had to adapt quickly to continue operations and keep on-site employees safe and healthy. Supply chain disruptions increased these challenges. WESCO and Anixter worked with customers throughout the world to ensure that they had the personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) supplies essential to their operations.

As businesses begin the return to full speed, WESCO and Anixter is prepared to help them succeed in an ever-changing work environment. On December 16, we held a virtual event, Up & Running: Keeping Employees Safe and Productive in 2021, to share insights and expertise on staying safe and productive in the new normal. Here are some of the highlights.

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Health and Safety in the New Workplace

Pandemic-related supply chain problems and increases in non-productive labor have impacted many companies’ bottom lines. To improve their financial viability, businesses are evolving their workplaces to better protect people and spaces while improving customer service.

Peter Bordonaro, senior director of strategic marketing at WESCO and Anixter, recommends a layered approach that includes training employees on new safety protocols and procedures, modifying physical work spaces to ensure social distancing, and using technology such as connected devices to monitor employees’ compliance with new processes and procedures.

Even as they implement these changes, companies must remain flexible to keep up with new government orders and evolving guidance from organizations such as the CDC.

Pandemic-related safety has been top of mind for OSHA as well as for businesses. According to Sylvia Kolitsopoulos, global business development for Conney Safety, a subsidiary of WESCO, as of November 5, OSHA had issued 203 citations for violations relating to the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. Penalties totaled more than $2.8 million.

Of course, companies can’t afford to lose sight of other OSHA safety standards, such as required personal protective equipment (PPE) and training for fall protection, hearing protection and hand protection, Kolitsopoulos noted. Even while protecting workers against COVID-19, they must continue to follow these and other standards to mitigate risk and create safe work environments.

Engaging with a resilient supply chain partner is the best, most cost-effective way for companies to keep their employees safe and their workplaces compliant during the pandemic and beyond. For a total solution, look for a partner that provides a complete suite of products and services, from safety equipment (including thermographic cameras and contactless thermometers) to risk assessment, training and certification.

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Utilizing IoT Technologies in MRO

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technology as part of the journey back to maximum productivity and safety. Amidst raw material generation and supply chain challenges, not to mention social distancing requirements, companies must work smarter to remain efficient.

Those that embrace digital transformation and incorporate IoT technology such as thermal scanning, remote monitoring of machines, and predictive maintenance can mitigate the spread of COVID-19, limit human exposure from in-person activities, and anticipate and resolve safety and operational problems before they impact productivity and profits.

One of the problems IoT technology solves is what Greg Schaefer, senior director of Industrial Innovation at WESCO and Anixter, calls “where’s my stuff?”

“The birth of IoT software has really enabled visibility of large numbers of assets,” said Schaefer.

Take Bluetooth sensors and RFID tags affixed to assets, for example. “There’s a tremendous waste of time for the worker who goes to the crib to get a tool and finds that it's not there, or it’s not the right tool,” said Schaefer. “And let's say they actually find a tool but realize that it that it doesn't work and should have been replaced a week or two prior. That's not a happy feeling for plant managers who are looking to maximize the daily profit for that production line.”

Bluetooth sensors and RFID tags let employees find tools in a snap with their phone or another device. RFID tags also allow companies to more easily track warranties and maintenance cycles so they can be sure an asset is ready for service.

“I think that you're going to see more and more large manufacturers out there adopt this type of technology,” said Eric Elsenbroek, director of global technology services, WESCO and Anixter.

Beyond tracking assets, Bluetooth sensors make it possible to monitor the temperature and frequency of motors and fans in machines. Technicians can use a phone app to check for anomalies and take action before there’s an emergency shutdown.

Companies can also use sensor data to create virtual models (digital twins) of vehicles. By measuring engine temperature, oil pressure, fuel levels and other performance indicators, these models provide early warnings about potential failures.

In addition, companies can monitor regulatory compliance or create a virtual model of an entire facility and test health and safety plans without impacting operations. Bluetooth-enabled workers’ badges can alert managers if a worker goes solo into a “no-alone” zone.

While some out-of-the-box IoT solutions are available, the right supply chain partner can develop more customized solutions that will yield the biggest benefit for dollars spent.

“Technology is driving efficiency, and efficiency is profit,” noted Elsenbroek.

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Rationalizing MRO and Safety Spend

On the journey to safer, more productive work environments, optimizing the supply chain in order to rationalize MRO and safety spend and achieve hard cost savings is critical. It follows that choosing the right supplier partner — one that adds value — is also critical.

Jefferson Smith, WESCO and Anixter global account manager, identified three major concerns around MRO and safety spend voiced by WESCO and Anixter customers.

1. How can we align a business strategy to supply chain with our preferred MRO suppliers?

A supplier that adds value can make recommendations for standardization and consolidation of PPE and MRO goods throughout the entire enterprise. The result is increased purchasing power and lower costs.

Businesses are also looking to partner and manage inventories and availability. “Our solutions often include inventory and site service solutions that allow us to help our customers exponentially,” said Smith.

With access to true costs and clean data, companies can better track all materials received and used, resulting in better inventory control at each location. Thanks to WESCO and Anixter’s structured implementation process, customers often achieve cost savings through substitutions, inventory reductions, transaction cost reductions, productivity improvements and other outcomes.

2. How can we measure and quantify the value of our preferred suppliers?

Tracking KPIs is the best way to measure supplier performance. Good KPIs to track may include on-time delivery, order accuracy/fill rate and quality of goods delivered. By tracking these and other KPIs, companies can ensure that the vendor partner is meeting its commitment and achieving goals such as reducing costs and maintaining a consistent supply of required materials throughout the organization.

3. How can we mitigate risk in a global environment that is pressured with tariffs and an on-going pandemic while ensuring that our employees have access to the necessary safety and PPE inventory?

Choosing a vendor partner with access to factories and other supply sources throughout the world goes a long way toward mitigating supply chain risks. Such a partner can negotiate directly with factories in order to provide a steady, reliable supply of PPE products.

A partner that offers advisory services can also recommend technologies such as point-of-use industrial vending and Bluetooth and RFID tracking within a production facility. These enable a company to store PPE/MRO materials securely, make them available only as needed, and replenish their supply automatically.

“Our team’s number one objective is to uncover our customer’s goals and apply or build out the right technology to offer as a service to accompany our product delivery capabilities,” said Kris Lindsay, Supply Chain Services Manager at WESCO and Anixter.

Although it may be many months before the business environment returns to anything resembling normal, now is the time for companies to adopt supply chain and IoT strategies that will position them for optimal safety and performance today and into the future. To access the Up & Running event on-demand, request a tour to explore the virtual city. 

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