Innovative measures for getting through the hardships of 2020

How did FELCO deal with the Coronavirus health crisis? Sébastien Nussbaum, Production Director, and Pierre-Olivier Matile, Safety and Environment Manager, talk about 2020, a year unlike any other.

Were you prepared for facing such a health crisis?

Sébastien Nussbaum: Every year, we implement hygiene measures when the seasonal flu arrives. We install disinfection measures in particularly sensitive areas and  observe the  departments where there are cases of illness. But we certainly didn’t expect this.

Pierre-Olivier Matile: We weren’t ready for a crisis of this magnitude. At the beginning of the year, we were already observing the situation from afar, as part of the preparations for the 75th anniversary festivities planned for March. Visitors were expected from all over the world and we were wondering whether this would be appropriate. We had set up a task force, comprising the management and department heads, which met regularly to discuss this. As spring approached, this task force’s raison d’être became increasingly apparent. And everything speeded up on 13 March.

In which way?

S.N.:  After the Federal Council’s announcement that schools would be closed and a semi-lockdown pronounced, we had one weekend to prepare the factory for this new situation. It was an extremely significant moment. It was “all hands on deck” for the department heads We had to implement sanitary measures like never before.

P.-O.M.:  For me too, this weekend will remain an intense memory of great inter-personal solidarity. We all had to react together in the face of an unprecedented situation. From then on, the pandemic group met every day to monitor the situation in real time.

Which measures were taken?

S.N.:  We immediately split all staff into two shifts, morning and afternoon, to avoid having to stop all production in the event of contamination. We also had to gradually install concrete protection measures, such as floor markings, Plexiglas, distancing measures, procedures in the event of illness, etc.

P.-O.M.:  Also, in order to ensure clear internal information, we set up an SMS alert system for all employees. In this way, everyone could be kept informed of the situation at any time.

Until the factory was closed?

S.N.:  Indeed, at the end of March, we closed the factory for one month. There was a lot of anxiety among the employees and we felt they were close to cracking up. In addition, order numbers were falling. It must be said that we didn’t really know what was going to happen. The decision to close was a relief. We took advantage of the production stoppage to carry out work and relocations. Then we started up again. Slowly at first. Then we had to speed up. Because, surprisingly, orders picked up again quickly and very strongly. In June, we were already back at 100% capacity. We even had to work on Saturdays. Our staff joined in without any hesitation.

And after the summer?

P.-O.M.:  We had got into a kind of habit. But we had to deal with people returning from holidays in high-risk countries. Then we were confronted with a new phenomenon: in October, the first cases emerged, and also the first serial quarantines which we had to manage. We set up a pandemic plan which included a comprehensive procedure for the internal tracing of any possible cases.

S.N.:  The second wave arrived very quickly. It was very important to have perfect internal tracing which would allow us to trace any possible chains of contamination.

P.-O.M.:   Our fear was that, if necessary, the Cantonal Medical Office could close an entire department or workshop if a case of Covid could not be documented. That would have paralysed all activity. Thankfully, this never happened.

What was learned from this crisis?

S.N.:  We realised that we are very flexible. We all managed to adapt very quickly to the new situation. Another important observation: the company works on short circuits; our suppliers are local or regional. The strategy has clearly demonstrated its advantages. There has been almost no break in supply and in this way, we have been able to maintain our freedom and independence.

P.-O.M.:  The same goes for our employees. At FELCO, 87% of employees live in the region. We haven’t had to deal with the problems of employees being delayed crossing the border, for example.

What has been the attitude of the staff this year?

S.N.:  Everyone was exemplary. They really were.

P.-O.M.:  Despite the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, they had courage and never gave up!

Are there any measures which you will keep during the post-Covid period?

S.N.:  In terms of production, we are going to review the way we manage stocks, no longer focusing solely on the seasonality of sales. From now on, we must include other criteria in planning our production: the state of air traffic, geopolitics, etc. External influences on our business have to be considered more comprehensively. Otherwise, this year’s experience has given me new ideas in terms of organising production, gaining flexibility and above all aiming to make people more versatile.

P.-O.M.:  If I consider the environmental side of my job, I would say that the year has shown that many trips can be replaced by virtual sessions or meetings, using computer tools. We did a lot of things remotely, even after-sales training. Even if we cannot replace all trips, we can now ask ourselves how useful of some of them are. In terms of health, the disinfection equipment is all beneficial too. We will be able to reuse it during small-scale seasonal epidemics.