Following the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on April 23 that South Africa's strict lockdown restrictions will start to ease from May, engineering solutions provider Weir Minerals Africa is preparing to resume operations and shares the lessons it has learned before and during the lockdown.
In a three phased approach, the company in February started preparing its response for a Covid-19 lockdown and beyond.
In the first phase, the company started by establishing a crisis committee to manage the actions and responses from the group, followed by creating awareness among employees about clean hygiene practices and reviewing hygiene practices in its manufacturing facilities.
In South Africa, Weir has three manufacturing facilities and ten sales and service branches.
The next phase saw the company implement physical distancing practices and de-risk its operations, including identifying employees over the age of 60 years or with pre-existing medical conditions that may be severely affected by Covid-19 and arranged for them to work from home.
The company also started planning its work-from-home procedures for the remainder of staff members, as well as rotational schedules for essential staff that needed to continue getting product to customers amid the lockdown.
Weir Minerals Africa regional director Gavin Dyer says the company hired 60 laptops in the week leading up to the lockdown to make sure that most remote-working staff members were able to do so efficiently at short notice.
While the company’s engineers carried on with their specialised work, there were others that could not perform their duties during the lockdown, owing to Weir stopping its manufacturing operations, but Weir made sure that these employees would receive a full pay cheque in March and April.
Dyer notes that the company’s engineering function operated at about 75% capacity at the start of the lockdown, which picked up to 100% capacity before the lockdown ended, showing the executives what the company is capable of in terms of adapting capabilities and technical aspects of the business quickly.
The company maintained communication with every employee each day throughout the lockdown, either through video conferencing applications or through phone calls. Weir also continued offering its wellness programme for employees to help people cope with isolation anxiety.
Weir has plans in place for when employees return to the workplace in phases. Dyer confirms that staff will continue to work on rotational schedules for the time being.
The company procured personal protective equipment for every staff member and affirms that regular health checks will be conducted.
Weir’s manufacturing functions remained shut throughout the lockdown, with the company only supplying essential customers out of its inventory in South Africa, and other African countries. The company will open up manufacturing functions as and when required after the lockdown to make sure that as few as possible people are on site at any given time.
During the lockdown, Weir also hosted training sessions with customers through webinars, discussing topics relevant to their current operations. Dyer says customers gave such positive feedback on the webinars that the company will continue to host these post-lockdown.
Weir Minerals Africa human resources director Rajen Govender says the topics of the webinars included total cost of ownership, condition monitoring systems and integrated solutions. The company also kept up customer communications during the lockdown to avoid uncertainties of any sort and provide advice where necessary.
Dyer does anticipate an impact on the company’s supply chain, as it will rapidly need to restock its inventory once operations normalise and demand for products increases.
He says the company locally will be able to source products from other Weir operations across the world, especially those that have not needed to shut down at all in the last few months.
Dyer further explains that the lockdown has taught the company of not only its capabilities in tough times, but also about the necessity of technologies such as remote monitoring.
“It has now become an imperative to check on the performance of equipment without physically attending sites.
“We have also proven that we can run this company and continue to generate orders completely without a single person being in the office. The lockdown has brought with it a whole different philosophy around engagements,” he points out.
Dyer adds that the company has become more focused on outcomes instead of how busy an individual is.
Govender agrees with this sentiment, stating that the company has learned about the maturity levels of its staff members to continue operating despite its manufacturing facilities being shut down.
“Business continuity has been critical for us and the level of responsibility that people have demonstrated is amazing,” he highlights.
Govender and Dyer agree that the lockdown’s success, as well as the success in curbing the spread of Covid-19, will be determined by the discipline that people maintain after the lockdown for the foreseeable future.
CONTRIBUTING TO COVID FIGHT
Weir Minerals Africa has also made a R1-million contribution to the national Solidarity Fund.
Dyer appealed to his executives to donate some of their remuneration to the fund as well.
The fund was established by the President on March 23 as a consolidated platform for funding to help the healthcare system stay equipped and vulnerable communities fed during the lockdown and beyond.
The company also set all its employees an engineering challenge to come up with innovative ideas to assist healthcare professionals or assist Weir in maintaining a safer and cleaner environment.
Dyer says the company has gathered 25 suggestions so far and these will be assessed for manufacturing suitability and impact. Some of the suggestions have included facial shield holders and devices to open doors without using one's hands.
Globally, the Weir group has embarked on similar challenges, in different formats and in different locations, all in efforts to help governments, communities and staff members manage the pandemic.