COVID-19 SPECIAL

Singapore factories keep churning out the goods, with safety top of mind

Firms take steps to adhere to guidelines, such as safe distancing and staggered work times

From safe distancing to increasing floor space, take a look at how manufacturing firms like Bengawan Solo and Theo10 have changed the way they operate since the coronavirus outbreak.

The ovens are running hot at local bakery chain Bengawan Solo after a three-week break - its longest closure since its beginnings more than 40 years ago.

Production resumed at its central kitchen in Woodlands last week after tightened circuit breaker measures for some businesses such as confectionery manufacturers were lifted.

Director Henry Liew told The Straits Times that checks were conducted on Tuesday last week before the facility resumed operations and started fulfilling orders for cakes and kueh.

"We had to make sure the premises and equipment were thoroughly cleaned, the cold rooms were all operating properly, all the ingredients were okay, and the equipment was in proper working condition," he said.

Manufacturing firms told The Straits Times that they have implemented extensive measures and made adjustments to adhere to guidelines - including renovations - as they strive to get Singapore's factories humming while not letting up on efforts to contain the coronavirus.

This comes as more businesses were allowed to resume operations last week. Firms must implement the check-in system SafeEntry, stagger work hours and appoint safe-distancing officers within the workplace, among other requirements, as they resume production.

Reminders of distancing measures in the form of 1m-long red tape and signs on walls and windows were placed prominently across Bengawan Solo's production facility when ST visited its premises last week.

Ensuring that the minimum distance could be kept between workers was not a significant challenge, said Mr Liew, noting that the facility has always had ample space around machines and working areas.

But the pandemic has inevitably hit the bakery chain in several ways.

 At Shine Precision Engineering in Pioneer, yellow boxes have been marked out next to the large machines to ensure that sufficient distance is kept between employees on the production floor. Cake decorators in confectionery chain Prima Deli's p
At Bengawan Solo's production facility, red tape pasted on workstations marks out a 1m safe distance to serve as a reminder to workers as they pack cakes. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Around 20 per cent of its central kitchen staff, or 18 workers, live in dormitories so they are on mandatory stay-home notices. And the closure of three stores at airport terminal transit areas and lower footfall at Jewel Changi Airport and Terminal 3 have meant a drop in sales of about 20 per cent, Mr Liew said.

This reduced manpower and fall in demand have led to lower production of certain products, such as pineapple tarts and sugee cookies.

 
 
 

Local manufacturer Theo10 spent about $10,000 on renovations to its 1,700 sq ft unit in Sungei Kadut in February to help it meet strict new safety protocols.

The start-up, which produces a range of skin products as well as hand sanitiser and body disinfectant, set up a mezzanine floor which now functions as the office area.

The ground floor has been freed up for manufacturing and product storage and allows the company to ensure a minimum distance of 1m is kept between employees, said founder Theodore Khng.

While the company has continued to operate as it provides essential products such as hand sanitiser, half of its six full-time staff are now working from home. Employees who still work in the office also go through a disinfection process before entering the unit.

The company has been supplying body disinfectants to several foreign worker dormitories since the start of last month. It produces about 1,000 litres of hand sanitiser and 10,000 litres of body disinfectant daily, added Mr Khng.

Safety is also high on the agenda at Shine Precision Engineering in Pioneer, where yellow boxes have been marked out next to the large machines to ensure that sufficient distance is kept between employees on the production floor, said senior quality assurance engineer David Foo.

 At Shine Precision Engineering in Pioneer, yellow boxes have been marked out next to the large machines to ensure that sufficient distance is kept between employees on the production floor. Cake decorators in confectionery chain Prima Deli's p
At Shine Precision Engineering in Pioneer, yellow boxes have been marked out next to the large machines to ensure that sufficient distance is kept between employees on the production floor. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

About 60 of its staff remain on-site with six others working from home. Instead of a single shift from 8.30am to 6pm, workers have split into three, starting at 7.30am, 8.30am and 9.30am, to reduce interaction between employees.

Split teams also operate at medical technologies firm Osteopore International, which manufactures 3D-printed implants to aid with bone healing. Two teams of eight employees rotate on different days, said chief executive Goh Khoon Seng.

 

Separation of workers is also enforced at controls and automation equipment manufacturer PepperL+Fuchs, which has stopped cross-team interaction between workers in the production and logistics teams.

It now uses automated systems to transfer orders between the two areas to minimise contact.

Managing director Klaus Maile said the firm has 438 employees still on-site across its three facilities here and more than 500 staff working from home, while production-line employees over 60 have been put on company-granted paid leave.

Bakery PrimaDeli, which has 47 retail outlets here, saw a 19 per cent increase in cake orders when full operations resumed on Tuesday last week, said general manager George Lim.

 At Shine Precision Engineering in Pioneer, yellow boxes have been marked out next to the large machines to ensure that sufficient distance is kept between employees on the production floor. Cake decorators in confectionery chain Prima Deli's p
Cake decorators in confectionery chain PrimaDeli's production kitchen in Keppel Road maintaining a safe distance from one another. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

About half of its outlets were closed after tighter measures took effect on April 22 but most have reopened since, with only three remaining closed.

The firm has stepped up some hygiene and distancing measures at its production facility in Keppel Road. Staff are required to change gloves and face masks every two hours compared with every four hours previously.

 
 

Mr Satish Karunanithi, production supervisor of the facility's cake section, said interaction between employees during breaks has also been reduced.

"We used to be able to chat while getting ready for work in the locker room and during lunch time, but we no longer do that. We understand that safe distancing is important and that each of us has a part to play," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore factories keep churning out the goods, with safety top of mind'. Subscribe