We’re not trying to sound the alarm or invoke our clarion call privileges as safety experts, but when it comes to Management of Change and COVID-19, a song from the musical “Wicked” comes to mind: “No Good Deed.”
The full expression, of course, as Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba in the show, belts out so beautifully is: “No good deed goes unpunished.” We certainly are not that cynical. We believe good deeds are essential for keeping people safe, products sustainable and operations productive. Try as they might, companies can’t ask the great and powerful Wizard to make the world a safer, more sustainable place to live and work in for generations to come—well, they could, but we all know how that strategy turned out in “The Wizard of Oz.” In reality, transforming your production focus takes proper planning, processes and procedures.
Switching production in these ways under these challenging circumstances may or may not be the most lucrative business strategy, but the good vibes that come from going above and beyond could be worth their weight in brand gold by helping people out during these difficult times. But this is also a cautionary tale where that yellow-brick road to that Emerald City of Operational Excellence can be a tricky one to traverse. After all, admirable business endeavors—good deeds—do not automatically go hand in hand with safe and sound business practices; it takes planning and the proper tools in place to do the job safely and effectively.
Something Bad … Could Happen in Oz or Elsewhere
For businesses managing change during COVID-19 by producing ventilators, masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, etc., that they normally would not, measures must be addressed on multiple fronts to ensure the products are safe for the public to use, for the workers who are manufacturing these items for the first time and the environment.
“I think the companies themselves, driven by the desire to play their role in helping, are in a situation where they’re not too sure what to do,” said Frank Arcadi, Sphera’s vice president of Product Stewardship. “They’re contemplating how to move forward. Should we continue down these paths? Are we putting ourselves at risk? How can we make a positive, sustainable, contribution without endangering our employees and customers?”
That risk holds true for companies large and small, but well-known brands, as we’ve often seen, sometimes take a more measured approach to jumping in and manufacturing alternative products because they already have risk procedures in place and they, themselves, are often at greater risk of seeing a brand reputation issue develop on a global scale.
This is why risk assessment is so crucial, whether it’s Environment, Health Safety & Sustainability, Operational Risk Management or Product Stewardship risks. “It’s important to make sure you know what you’re doing and that you are putting out a quality product” to ensure it is safe for people to produce and use as well as for the environment, Arcadi said.
While large companies have been a bit slower to jump into the fray, “the small local distilleries, on a dime, they turned around and started producing hand sanitizer because they don’t have the same risk of brand protection that the other guys do. A local distillery here in Quebec that makes gin turned around and started making sanitizer. For them, it was a no-brainer.”
While the idea to produce these products might be sound and heartfelt, there’s a lot of thought that needs to go into the technical challenges that must be met to ensure safety throughout the supply chain.
For hand sanitizers especially, there are risks that companies need to be aware of. For instance, a distiller that switches from producing whiskey, which is 40% alcohol, to hand sanitizer, which could be up to 90% alcohol, is no small change.
“There’s a couple things that come up,” said Philippe Guillard, Sphera’s vice president of global solutions and alliances. “So, No. 1, going from 40% alcohol to, say, 65% minimum for hand sanitizer, that’s obviously a very flammable product. I won’t say dangerous, but it burns really good; there’s no other way to say it. Certainly the risks are increased effectively. It’s a higher-density of flammable potential energy that they’re dealing with. While they’re distilling at a higher alcohol concentration, they would need to do an updated risk assessment on their processes.”
The Road of Good Intentions Can Be Perilous
For bigger organizations in particular, consumers and smaller businesses are looking for the big companies to help lead the way, as Dorothy did so long ago in Oz, and help with the ongoing pandemic, but “it’s a double-edged sword,” Arcadi said. That’s because if you don’t try to help out, you risk a hit to your brand reputation for not being proactive, but if you jump in too soon to help and don’t do it properly, that, too, could be a risk to the company’s ruby-red reputation.
The good news, Guillard added, is that larger manufacturers undoubtedly already have large process safety teams in place. The not-so-surprising news is the smaller players undoubtedly do not. “It’s not that they don’t understand safety or don’t understand risk,” he said, “but if you’re a ‘boutique’ distiller, and you’ve got, say, 20 employees or less, you probably don’t have a full-time process safety engineer” managing the explosion risk from that concentration of alcohol.
While that type of tempest is obviously the most concerning, there are other inherent risks, too, that are perhaps less obvious. For hand sanitizers in particular, companies would also need to be able to produce the right labeling for the right product for the right country and in the right language or risk regulatory wrath. And in places like the European Union, where packaging waste is more regulated, sustainability factors must also be taken into consideration.
“There’s a lot of documentation that goes into shipping, labeling and handling that needs to be produced,” Arcadi added, “and that’s often done by Research & Development and/or regulatory experts, having access to a system.”
For health care items, such as ventilators designed to help meet the demand created by the growing number of COVID-19 patients, manufacturers need to take the same care in creating these devices as they would with their typical products, whether it’s an automobile, a vacuum cleaner or whatever else it might be. “If I were a manufacturer,” Guillard said, “I would not assume that the government’s going to give me leeway on the more complex things like a ventilator.”
Again, it may be a feel-good story to say you’ve entered in this new fray to help mankind, but a company could potentially be held liable for a bad outcome should a device malfunction, Guillard said. “That’s part of that risk awareness,” he said. “The larger companies are better equipped to do it because they operate, not in the ventilator space normally, but they operate in a complex manufacturing environment already.”
All this, by the way, is by no means meant to discourage companies from helping out during the global threat we are currently experiencing, but organizations need to do so smartly if they’re going to emerge popular even during the toughest case they’ve yet to face in terms of production.
“A lot of these companies are looking at ways they can help, but not necessarily modifying and adding risks to themselves,” Arcadi said. “At least that’s what I observed from the actions that I’m starting to see.”
On the flip side, by ensuring safe processes are followed in the areas of Operational Risk, Product Stewardship and Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability, companies can help people and their brand.
Companies that want to manage this change properly and help out will need to rely on more than just brains, heart and courage; it will take the proper solutions in place so they can not only say that they have “changed for the better” but that they’ve changed things up “for good.”