As America’s attention turns to reopening its economy28365365体育投注, many businesses are deploying a range of tactics to attempt to shield their workforces from the coronavirus. For the most part, they are making it up as they go.

With no single standard or clear-cut road map, safety procedures and implementation vary widely, particularly on how to handle confirmed Covid-19 cases in the workplace.

Pepsi -Cola bottling plants in New York are giving factory workers surgical masks and checking their temperatures at the door. A rival Coca-Cola bottler has given employees thermometers to monitor themselves and red bandannas as face covers at work.

“A lot of this is reacting in real-time,” said Jeffrey Honickman, chief executive of the Honickman companies, a group of East Coast bottlers including Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of New York. “I never thought we’d be doing any of these things. We’re learning as we go along.”

A spokeswoman for the Coke bottler, Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages LLC, said its policies would evolve as it identified best practices and received more guidance from health officials.

so far have been broad on what employers should do, leaving many companies to jury-rig internal safety procedures to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Some common practices include regular health screenings at entrances and requiring workers to wear face masks and other protective gear on the job, industry executives and consultants say. Many companies are changing floor plans, rerouting workers through separate entrances and exits, and staggering shifts to limit interaction.

An employee's temperature is checked at a Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of New York facility.

Photo: Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of New York

Testing employees for the virus before they come to work28365365体育投注 has also emerged as a potential solution for businesses looking to better track the outbreak. But executives say there are still many hurdles to widespread deployment, including whether enough tests can be secured and workers will agree to take them.

Businesses that never closed their facilities because they were deemed essential are on the forefront of these ad hoc efforts—with vastly mixed results and constant changes. Others, such as many major car makers, plan to reopen factories in coming weeks.

The patchwork approach to safety is creating tensions with unions and debate over whether some companies are doing enough to protect workers. Some employees in recent weeks have walked off the job, saying their workplaces were putting them at risk.

“We don’t have to put people in space suits, but we have to do more than hand sanitizers,” said Ford Motor Co.28365365体育投注 CEO Jim Hackett. He said he didn’t see concerns about the virus outbreak abating soon and the company was putting in place a global safety standard that should last until at least next spring. “We’ve got to get that part really right,” he said.

28365365体育投注Some companies are taking their cues from what has worked in China, where efforts to reboot businesses are ahead of other parts of the globe because the country has been dealing with the virus outbreak longer. There, temperature checkpoints and employee-health screenings have become commonplace at most business locations. Factory workers wear masks and rubber gloves during shifts, and companies have closed down break rooms and smoking areas to prevent employees from congregating in one spot.

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Certain factories and shops resumed work as Germany took its first steps out of the coronavirus lockdown. WSJ’s William Boston reports from the streets of Berlin, where bars and restaurants remain closed. Photo: Peter Juelich/Bloomberg News
Federal guidance

28365365体育投注The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has, providing recommendations—some industry-specific—on limiting the virus’s spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers workplace guidelines, including what to do if an employee has been exposed.

But OSHA stresses its guidance isn’t regulation, only an advisory. In practice, executives and workplace-health experts say, much is left open to interpretation. OSHA didn’t respond to requests for comment. Bradley King, a CDC industrial hygienist, said employers should prioritize keeping employees separated to avoid the spread of Covid-19. If that wasn’t possible, he said, the employer must determine what protective equipment workers need and provide it.

A CDC team recently made an on-site visit to a pork-production plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., operated by Smithfield Foods Inc. to evaluate worker-safety measures, said Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan. That team planned to visit other Smithfield plants and provide similar guidance, he said. Smithfield closed its Sioux Falls pork plant, one of the industry’s biggest, for an indefinite period after the state’s governor said the facility was linked to more than 200 cases of the new coronavirus.

FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. have continued operating their global-delivery enterprises, even as the virus’s spread led to infections and death in their employee ranks.

28365365体育投注When a UPS employee in San Diego tested positive in March, the company quarantined the worker and disinfected all affected workspaces before opening the area back up, a UPS spokesman said. With each new Covid-19 case, UPS informs co-workers in the immediate vicinity and informs local union officials. UPS doesn’t disclose the sick employee’s identity nor does it communicate a positive diagnosis to all workers at a site, the spokesman said, adding: “This is beyond the scope of guidance provided by public health officials.”

28365365体育投注FedEx said it removes from duty pilots who test positive or are exposed to an infected person. They self-isolate pending further testing and evaluation. If a worker tests positive in another facility, such as a package-sorting center, managers work with human-resources personnel to notify other employees or vendors who may have been exposed or who work closely with the infected worker and ensure they take recommended precautions.

An Amazon Flex driver with packages outside an Amazon fulfillment center this month in Baltimore.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If the case is in a retail location, FedEx said, it would close the store for 24 hours to have a third-party cleaning company sanitize the space and reopen it with staff from a nearby store.

Last week, business leaders pressed President Trump to increase virus-test availability28365365体育投注 to help convince the public it is safe to return to work. Mr. Trump has formed a task force of more than 200 business executives and political leaders to advise on reopening the economy. The White House said the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security have issued specific guidance for critical infrastructure workers, which can be applied broadly but are specific for businesses in the first phase of the administration’s guidelines to reopen the country. Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday said in a shareholder letter the company has started building test capacity to diagnose all employees for Covid-1928365365体育投注, including those with no symptoms.

Nervous employees

Where workers are coming in daily, managers are trying to reassure nervous employees that the companies aren’t putting them at risk, emphasizing efforts to deep-clean workspaces, make hand sanitizers and protective gear widely available, and restrict visitors.

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Tire maker Bridgestone Corp.,28365365体育投注 which recently restarted five U.S. factories, said it suspended rules regarding unexcused absence to encourage workers feeling sick to remain home and has installed partitions at some plants to maintain 6 feet between employees.

At GE Appliances factories, nurses are available on site, and “social-distance ambassadors” monitor behavior and address employee issues that may arise, a company spokeswoman said. The company, which Chinese appliance maker Haier Group bought from General Electric Co. in 2016, taped off some factory restroom urinals so workers wouldn’t stand too close to each other, according to company materials.

A social-distancing measure at GE Appliances.

Photo: GE

Volkswagen AG has rolled out a list of 100 workplace changes it plans for building cars as it begins reopening its European factories this week and plants in other countries, including the U.S., after April 27. Among them, workers will no longer pass materials to each other by hand, setting them down instead. Employees will line up single-file to enter factory gates, keeping a 6-foot distance. The overhaul is so exhaustive, union officials have said, staff will have to take extra time to absorb the new rules.

Ford, General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said workers would see changes when their U.S. factories reopen in the coming weeks, such as a requirement to fill out daily questionnaires—likely online before arrival—about symptoms, and temperature checks.

The companies said they were taking steps to reduce interaction during the flow of factory life. Where possible, departing workers would use a separate exit from those arriving for the next shift, instead of filing by one another through turnstiles. Seating in kitchen areas would be spread out, with common appliances such as microwaves sometimes removed.

28365365体育投注Ford, at one plant making protective gear for medical workers, is experimenting with workers wearing wristbands that alert them if they come within 6 feet of another, a Ford spokeswoman said.

Specific measures to maintain 6-foot guidelines will require auto makers and many parts suppliers to rejigger some tasks and may not be feasible, said Kristin Dziczek, a labor expert at the Center for Automotive Research, a research group. For example, bolting an engine into a vehicle typically requires more than one worker standing underneath.

Ford is manufacturing face masks for internal use and pursuing certification for medical use.

Photo: Ford

The car companies say they are still working out assembly-line changes. Jim Glynn, GM’s workplace-safety chief, said spacing workers would be one of the biggest hurdles to resuming work. GM would give extra protective gear to those working in proximity, he said.

Some measures, such as lengthening time between shifts and using fewer workers in some areas, are expected to hamper productivity, consultants and executives say. “If necessary, we will produce less rather than take any risks,” said Andreas Tostmann, Volkswagen’s global production chief. “We won’t have the entire workforce back in the early days, but rather successively increase capacity.”

The United Auto Workers union in mid-March successfully pressured Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler to close U.S. factories as the virus spread. Since then, UAW leaders have been vocal about workplace changes they want, such as testing protocols and assurance that those with symptoms can self-quarantine at home without penalty to dissuade employees from showing up sick. The car companies and union are jointly developing the plans, they have said.

The UAW, representing roughly 150,000 factory workers at the Detroit car companies, has confirmed at least 22 Covid-19 deaths among its membership, but it isn’t clear if any contracted the virus at work, a union spokesman said.

Varied protocols

Protocols on what to do when a worker tests positive for Covid-19 vary, even within the same industry.

Liberty Coca-Cola in at least four cases has shut down an entire plant or warehouse when a worker there had a confirmed Covid-19 case, the spokeswoman said. Managers sent the shift home, and an outside firm disinfected every surface, including printers and microwaves, before the next shift.

28365365体育投注The rival Pepsi bottler interviews sick workers, asking which parts of a facility they worked in recently and targeting those areas for deep cleaning. It reviews security-camera footage to confirm the cleaning firm has addressed the spots, said the company’s Mr. Honickman. In some cases, he said, it has cleaned an entire facility over a weekend without needing to send workers home.

“In a perfect world, I’d love to see more” guidance from public-health officials, he said. “When the guidance is clear, it’s easier to implement.”

Sanitizing a truck at a Coca-Cola production center.

Photo: Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages

In March, tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. said it was closing down its Marlboro cigarette factory for two weeks after two employees tested positive for the virus. When it reopened the plant, it reduced the number of workers and implemented measures such as closing the cafeteria and giving employees box lunches instead, an Altria spokesman said.

“It is a true balancing act and we really said employee safety first, with an eye towards business continuity,” Billy Gifford, who was named Altria CEO last week, said in a March interview. “Our focus is on the health and welfare of our employees so we’re being very deliberative in our approach,” the spokesman said.

Reynolds American Inc.’s procedure for a confirmed Covid-19 case is to perform additional cleaning of the areas where the employee worked, a spokeswoman for the cigarette maker said. In one case, the company shut down a small facility a day early before the Easter holiday for cleaning.

University of Iowa professor Renée Anthony, an industrial hygienist, said while government guidelines offer some direction, companies must fine-tune responses to specific workplace situations. The CDC recommends people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain distancing, for example. But cloth masks don’t provide sufficient protection when employees work huddled together, she said, where industrial-grade masks would be more effective. N95 respirator masks also are effective but are in short supply because of medical demand, she said.

The CDC’s Mr. King said cloth face masks were recommended to potentially limit the spread of the virus to others. They shouldn’t be considered a substitute for protective gear like respirators or industrial-grade masks if the employer deems a need for them, he said.

Joe Vitta, president of Teamsters Local 812, which represents workers at the Coke and Pepsi bottling plants, said the union’s priority was ensuring workers get adequate protection against the virus.

28365365体育投注“It’s a moving target,” Mr. Vitta said. “9/11, it happened and we reacted. Sandy, it happened and we reacted,” he said, referring to the superstorm. “This is different. It changes day to day.”

Write to Jennifer Maloney at, Mike Colias at and Paul Ziobro at

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