Local Manufacturers Instilling Safety More Than 100 Years Later

By July 10, 2020 No Comments

Two Northeast Wisconsin companies are among those leading the way in staying safe during a pandemic – for a second time! Be Safe Wisconsin partners The Boldt Company and Menasha Corporation both survived the global Spanish Flu of 1918 and have thrived over the past century working through many other safety and economic challenges. They are two examples of the benefits of creating and conveying new best practices to keep employees and customers safe in changing times.

The Boldt Company

A “be positive and have faith” attitude by company leaders and employees is what Boldt CEO Tom Boldt believes helped the construction company grow from its humble beginnings in 1889 (a 131-year history) to its national operations today. The Appleton-based company employs about 2,000 field and office workers. Wisconsin sites also include Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Stevens Point and Waukesha.

“I’ve been impressed by the boundless optimism of our founders,” Boldt noted, “and I see similar ‘grit’ among our current company leaders, rolling up their sleeves and making changes, looking for opportunities and making plans to succeed.”

In Wisconsin, Boldt had been deemed an “essential business” within Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Although all the offices were closed, it has been operational through the nationwide shutdown this spring. The company immediately established a COVID-19 Task Force, meeting at least daily to establish protocols and inform employees on location-specific guidelines and procedures.

“We have a COVID-19 safety checklist for our work sites. We developed an app, which allows employees to sign in and give daily health verifications. Temperatures are taken before entering the work site. In addition, we have safety equipment and materials like masks, hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes. We also provide mental health support.” Health and wellness tips as well as CDC resources also are made available to workers.

Some projects had been postponed, but for work being done at customer facilities, precautions were taken. “We worked given our directives, signing current health condition forms, taking temperature checks, enforced physical distancing, wearing face masks, wiping down work surfaces, tools and equipment, and more.”

For employees feeling unsafe at construction sites, due to health concerns such as asthma or other respiratory conditions, they could choose to stay home and not work.

Boldt put a plan in place to reopen its administration offices in June. The areas of focus are keeping the virus out, preventing the spread and keeping spaces clean. “We are adapting to upgrades to telecommunications and limiting the number of people in the office setting, considering alternating shifts each week.” Visitors will be limited. Traffic flow will be modified.  HVAC modifications have been made.

Although Boldt has no specific information on how policies and procedures were adapted during the last pandemic in the early 1900’s, “I would hope past leaders also looked out for the employees as well as the customers as we are today. It positions a company for a better future state.”

That customer and employee-centered approach has Boldt innovating during the COVID-19 pandemic. For health system clients, Boldt constructed temporary structures for COVID-19 drive-through testing. It also fabricated modular critical care units in collaboration with its design partner HGA. The STAAT Mod (Strategic, Temporary, Acuity-Adaptable Treatment) is a “rapid response, quick-ship solution” to the coronavirus addressing hospital intensive care bed needs and providing hospital quality care without co-mingling.

“We set up a warehouse for manufacturing and we were able to modify it as we went along,” Boldt explained of the team of 20 that worked on the units over the course of a month. “We took precautions and learned ways to improve. With a construction site, we required staff to take temperatures, wear face masks, practice social distancing and clean surfaces.”

Boldt also noted the need to work efficiently. “There were a lot of challenges. We are interested in people meeting the challenge. It can be frustrating, but we want our doors to stay open.”

Boldt said his team will continue to problem solve as the coronavirus evolves, looking at needs in rural areas of America and in new hot spots where COVID-19 might peak. “We continue to innovate in the middle of the pandemic. We want to be prepared for what might happen.”

Menasha Corporation

Menasha Corporation, founded in 1849 – 50 years before Boldt – notes it has had to be innovative, resilient and visionary to sustain itself for more than 170 years, including through the last pandemic.

“Through the years, when market conditions changed or consumer preferences changed, we had to be agile, anticipate needs and seize opportunities, which is what are doing during this crisis,” said Kristine Pavletich, Director of Corporate Communications at Menasha Corporation, which produces corrugated and plastic packaging products for consumer goods, food, healthcare, automotive, agricultural and other industries. “Our employees have the kind of drive and mindset needed to persevere and remain successful.”

Menasha Corporation’s operations are considered essential and critical to the supply chain infrastructure, so it too was open during Wisconsin’s Safer-At-Home order. “We took immediate steps to help keep employees safe and to follow guidelines for precautions and establish new protocols in our plants and offices,” Pavletich said.

Menasha Corporation has a cross-company Pandemic Team that meets virtually every day to discuss, report on and monitor developments at every one of its 112 locations, including the 12 sites in Wisconsin located in DeForest, Hartford, Madison, Menasha, Oconomowoc, Pewaukee, and its headquarters and five other locations in Neenah.

“We are monitoring COVID-19 developments, evaluating how our employees and customers are affected and ensuring they receive what is needed,” Pavletich said. The corporation also is contact tracing those in their sites that may have been exposed and staying on top of community developments.

Pavletich said COVID-19-related safety protocols include physical distancing, sanitation and disinfecting, personal protective equipment and hygienic requirements, and remote work for office employees. “We also have strict procedures for possible exposures and diagnosed cases, and we implemented a COVID-19-related paid sick leave policy to support our employees’ health and safety. Also, we have continuous communication including a dedicated COVID-19 intranet site to help keep employees aware of company actions and procedures. We are working hard to protect employees and ensure we have a safe environment.”

The manufacturing processes and distribution services “follow stringent requirements for safety.” Since the start of the pandemic, the corporation increased communication with all stakeholders, including customers and suppliers to implement any additional requirements they have for enhanced safety in their supply chains.

“We are really proud of the efforts our employees have taken to accelerate safety in the workplace and quickly implement new processes like temperature scanning and physical distancing in common areas and at workstations,” Pavletich said. “We’ve had many state and local government agencies tell us they are impressed by how thorough and well-planned our protocols are and have even requested information from us to implement similar systems elsewhere.”

Some key takeaways from Menasha Corporation for employees and customers: Please make time for taking precautions that not only protect yourself, but also help protect those around you. We can do this best by following the CDC’s guidelines to –

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Practice physical distancing
  • Sanitize items you touch
  • Respect the concerns of others

“Only when we all take personal responsibility for safe practices can we collectively make a difference in mitigating the spread of coronavirus,” Pavletich added.

Unique perspectives from two Northeast Wisconsin companies who have stood the test of time and are making it through their second pandemic successfully.

Other manufacturers can survive too learning by example and by seeking manufacturing-specific guidance on preparing work settings for COVID-19 from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).