Our Journey to Safely Reopening 

by John Mahlmeister 

To keep employees and customers safe amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have had to alter the way they do business. As stay-at-home orders lift from state to state, these companies continue to look for ways to improve safety and sanitation in the workplace. 

One such company is national ice machine provider Easy Ice. Before allowing its employees to return to the office, Easy Ice leadership needed to develop a scalable protocol to ensure a safe work environment. Below are some elements of Easy Ice’s comprehensive safety plan — a directed plan that offers proven best practices for other companies. 

Identify the Challenges 

With 14 locations across the United States, providing a safe environment for the company’s 200-plus employees was no small feat. Ryan Mahru, the safety manager for Easy Ice, was tasked with designing a reopening plan specific to Easy Ice and its multiple locations. “The challenge is that there was no playbook for COVID-19 prevention,” says Mahru, “so we realized we had to make one.” 

The first step to providing a safe environment for returning employees was to make sure offices followed the best safety practices. A COVID-19 response task force was created to devise a safety plan that met recommendations from the world’s leading health organizations. 

First, Easy Ice consulted the OSHA Occupational Risk Pyramid, which classifies workplace exposure risk into four categories: Lower, Medium, High and Very High exposure risk areas. OSHA provides baseline safety guidelines for each level of risk. 

Some safety practices Easy Ice adopted include: 

  • Requiring employees to wear a cloth or surgical facemask when leaving their desk or entering a customer’s business,
  • Requiring employees to move their desks at least six feet away from one another,
  • Restricting guests from entering Easy Ice offices,
  • Placing hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray stations in each department, 
  • Providing N95 masks to every employee when in-person interaction was unavoidable,
  • Providing technicians with latex gloves and eye protection for use when servicing ice machines in the field, and
  • Limiting technicians to one individual per vehicle when traveling between jobs.

The next step was identifying company-specific scenarios where in-person contact is likely. For example, Easy Ice has always required in-person confirmation and a signature before a technician could mark a job as completed. Realizing this practice exposed technicians and customers to unnecessary risk, the company adopted a new policy that allows verbal phone confirmation that the job was complete. 

Each business is unique, so it’s important for company leadership to work with employees to identify risky scenarios throughout their day-to-day operations.

Stay Up on Emerging Information and Technology 

There is still a lot to learn about preventing the spread of COVID-19. Medical consensus can change as new information about the disease emerges. While medical professionals find new ways to keep people safe, company leadership continues to stay up to date on new findings. 

Easy Ice’s COVID task force meets weekly to discuss emerging technology and updated best practices. 

Through their findings, many additional safety features were put in place. These include Hepa filters to help reduce the number of airborne particles floating throughout the office, Silver Defender tape applied to all workplace door handles, plastic partitions set up in workplaces that cannot adhere to six-foot social distancing rules, and no-touch thermometers at each sanitization station so employees can check their temperature. 

Easy Ice’s experience underscores the need for companies to make sure safety measures reflect the most current information from reputable sources like the CDC. Many of these organizations provide daily updates on their websites. Employees tasked with creating safety measures can also subscribe to daily email notifications from leading health agencies to receive up-to-date information as it becomes official. 

Keeping Employees in Good Practice 

Creating an effective safety response is one thing; ensuring employees are following best practices is another. For this, Mahru and Easy Ice leadership looked to professional sports for inspiration. “Our goal is to create a stimulus-response, so our employees can create a routine practice that keeps everyone safe,” says Mahru. 

Stimulus-response is a psychological theory that suggests the body’s response to stimulus influences behavior. A sports example is a basketball player readying himself to jump for a rebound off another player’s missed free-throw. 

Easy Ice wanted employees to react safely in high-risk scenarios the same way a professional sports star responds immediately to a game-winning opportunity. For this, Easy Ice branch managers perform a routine safety audit to identify areas for improvement and ensure compliance with federal guidelines. In addition, branch managers attended weekly safety briefs wherein leadership shares new, emerging safety information to prevent coronavirus spread in the office. 

Finally, managers conducted training sessions with employees to hardwire these safety measures into their daily practices. The best safety measures are the ones employees don’t have to think about. 

Safety Should Be Every Company’s Top Priority 

It’s never too late to introduce new safety measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. Developing an effective response plan, guided by the recommendations from the world’s professionals, can make a big difference. 

Keeping everyone safe means getting everyone involved. Leadership should work hand-in-hand with employees throughout the company to identify opportunities to make the workplace as safe as it can be. Cooperation between management and staff will ensure best practices are being followed. 

John Mahlmeister is the chief operating officer and co-founder of Easy Ice. Easy Ice is co-headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., and Marquette, Mich., and is the national leader in the full-service ice machine subscription industry, with warehouse and distribution facilities in Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City and Orlando. Since its founding in 2009, the company has rapidly grown its ice machines under management to 25,000 units across 47 states. Easy Ice’s commercial ice machine subscription programs include installation, cleaning, preventive maintenance, repairs, backup ice and peak demand ice. The company operates under three brands: Ice Masters in Kansas and Missouri, Automatic Icemakers in Chicago, and Easy Ice in all other cities and states. 

Read more COVID-19 Stories: Experiences that Show Our Strength

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