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Ford, BP taking steps to protect workers from coronavirus
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Ford, BP taking steps to protect workers from coronavirus

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Ford, BP taking steps to protect workers from coronavirus

Ford and the United Auto Workers union are coming up with new protections against coronavirus for manufacturing and warehousing workers.

Ford and BP, two of the Calumet Region's largest industrial employers, are taking extra precautions to protect workers from the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, which killed its first Indiana resident Monday and more than 7,000 people worldwide.

Both Ford and BP are directing office workers to work remotely from home. But workers at the BP Whiting Refinery, the Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch and the Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago Heights can't refine oil or assemble SUVs from the comfort of their couch. So the companies are pursuing increased safety measures at their industrial facilities, such as by sanitizing workplaces, encouraging social distancing and prohibiting non-essential visitors.

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Ford instructed white-collar workers to work from home until further notice starting Monday. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, the United Auto Workers union, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler are forming a COVID-19/Coronavirus Task Force and putting their heads together on enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse workers.

“Workplace health and safety is a priority for us every day; all three companies have been taking steps to keep the COVID-19/coronavirus out of their facilities and during this national emergency, we will do even more working together,” UAW President Rory Gamble said. “We are focused on doing the right thing for our people, their families, our communities and the country. All options related to protecting against exposure to the virus are on the table.”

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The task force will look at enhanced visitor screening, increased cleaning, ramped-up sanitizing of common areas and touchpoints, and new safety protocols for those who were exposed or exhibited flu-like symptoms. They will look at break and cleaning schedules, health and safety education, health screenings, social distancing, food service and any other ways to prevent the spread of disease.

"This is a fluid and unprecedented situation, and the task force will move quickly to build on the wide-ranging preventive measures we have put in place," the Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler said in a joint statement. "We are all coming together to help keep our workforces safe and healthy."

BP ordered everyone who can to work from home until at least April. Critical employees were advised not to come in if they feel unwell and to "be thoughtful about how and when they travel to work to minimize exposure to the virus."

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The energy giant has banned employee gatherings, workers from attending work-related events elsewhere, and meetings, which will now be conducted virtually. It's also prohibiting any non-essential work travel and visitors to any plant or office who aren't operationally essential.

"Anyone having been in or traveled through highly impacted countries within the last 14 days, is required to self-quarantine for 14 days from return and monitor their health — even if they have no symptoms. If they experience symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty with breathing), they are advised to take steps to isolate themselves, seek medical advice, notify BP and not come to work while ill," BP spokesman Michael Abendoff said. "Finally, we emphasize the mainstays of prevention for spread of disease such as: staying home from work when ill, focusing on good health hygiene practices - including social distancing, washing hands with soap and water, avoiding the touching of the face, nose and mouth and covering coughs and sneezes."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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