Temperature checks, travel restrictions, Skype meetings become the new industrial reality


Louisiana’s industrial market awoke to a new reality this week, one consisting of temperature checks, restricted travel and a greater dependence on Skype meetings.

To stem the rising tide of local coronavirus infections, mostly concentrated in New Orleans but spreading quickly, owners and contractors began marching in lockstep with ever-tightening state and federal guidelines.

Out of “an abundance of caution,” ExxonMobil Baton Rouge is limiting meetings, trainings and large gatherings to only those considered to be “business critical,” says Megan Manchester, public & government affairs adviser, in an emailed statement. Additionally, the owner has a 14-day work-from-home policy for those traveling from locations with sustained community transmission, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Manchester says this all follows ExxonMobil’s established processes for managing infectious disease outbreaks. “We will continue to ensure our plans align with the latest guidance from our local Medicine and Occupational Health team and the local mayor’s and governor’s offices of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness,” she adds.

“Our focus continues to be ensuring the safety and health of our entire workforce and to do our part to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in the community.”

Reuters reports that Shell has requested salaried staff at its Louisiana refineries to start shadowing hourly plant operators to organize managers to run models if crucial.

David Helveston, president & CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Pelican Chapter, says some ABC member contractors have implemented temperature checks at their corporate offices and jobsites, with industrial owners expected to follow suit if they haven’t already. In many cases, they’re using disposable oral thermometers due to a shortage of infrared thermometers.

Contractors are also restricting unnecessary travel. “They aren’t necessarily suspending all travel but scheduling conference calls or Skype meetings in lieu of face-to-face meetings,” Helveston says.

In a similar move, the Louisiana Chemical Association announced Monday that it was converting the remainder of its March meetings to conference calls and canceling all March events. Those meetings that can’t be conducted remotely will be canceled or re-scheduled. “LCA and LCIA have been, and will continue to be, monitoring the situation around the novel coronavirus closely,” says LCA President & CEO Greg Bowser in an emailed statement. “We will be evaluating the recommendations from federal, state and local health officials constantly and will be fluid in determining how that will impact the ability of the LCA staff to work with you (member companies) during this time.”

Also on Monday, ABC-Pelican suspended all of its training classes until further notice. That impacts about 2,000 students at facilities and partner schools from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles. “Unlike many of the colleges, we can’t really move to online classes because so much of what we do is ‘hands on,’ working with equipment or in a welding booth,” Helveston says. “That doesn’t lend itself well to a virtual environment.”

There are other factors to consider, he notes: “These are folks dealing with childcare issues while they’re working at jobsites. It’s probably best for them to be at home right now.”

Albeit a serious situation, Helveston feels the industrial construction market can handle a short-term delay in training. “We just hope it’s a one-month delay and we can extend the semester into June,” he adds.