The world has been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in ways that have yet to be seen, and businesses big and small are being impacted by the outbreak. But new collaborations between businesses might just be a bright spot amid the fear and uncertainty.
One such collaboration occurring between Neenah Foundry and ThedaCare Regional Medical Center is bringing the two businesses together in an unexpected way. Neenah Foundry is providing respirator fit testing for several ThedaCare anesthesiologists who will be working triage on the front line of the local COVID-19 response.
Jo LeMoine, vice president of human resources for Neenah Foundry, says the foundry’s onsite nurses are advised by a ThedaCare physician who knew their employees were trained in fit testing and called in to see if they could assist.
“This is new to these medical professionals who don’t routinely wear respirators,” LeMoine says. “A cross-collaboration like this is a very unique thing.”
A “fit test” tests the seal between the respirator’s facepiece and the wearer’s face. The fit test ensures the wearer is sensitive to the fit test solution. The wearer then puts on the respirator and performs various simulated job type activities. This ensures the respirator fits the wearer properly; meaning they are fully protected from breathing in airborne contaminants whether it be silica or the COVID-19 virus. A respirator can’t protect the wearer if it doesn’t fit their face correctly.
No stranger to respirators and fit testing, both of Neenah Foundry’s Safety and Occupational Health Services Teams are well versed in this procedure. There is sand in the foundry process, which creates dust. This dust is regulated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration silica standard and requires respiratory considerations. Some foundry employees, like those who work in cleaning rooms where heavy dust is present, are required to wear respirators and this requires regular fit testing.
In addition to fit testing, Neenah Foundry has donated various medical supplies and made widespread changes in response to COVID-19.
“It’s so dynamic. We have someone on our team whose job is literally watching for news releases and attending webinars to stay on top of the ever-changing environment,” LeMoine says.
Meetings are conducted via Google Hangouts rather than in person. For employees required to be on site, social distancing is the way of life. Hiring is moving forward, but only for critical positions.
Prior to the pandemic, Neenah Foundry was not a “work from home” kind of company, LeMoine says. That’s changed to some extent. Any employees who can work from home now do. LeMoine says that includes about 40 percent, or 50 employees, of the corporate headquarters staff and she anticipates that number will increase.
“Our IT department developed a contingency plan and we expanded our ability to allow people to VPN into our system and work from home because employee safety is of utmost importance to us,” she says.