The country is doing its level best to keep citizens safe from the deadly coronavirus with increased restrictions on movement and a nationwide lockdown. During this period, we at Bayer have two priorities – ensuring the health of our employees and maintaining the supply of our products and services to hospitals, doctors, patients, consumers and farmers. This becomes even more important for our largest manufacturing plant at Vapi which supplies active ingredients for agriculture as well as public and animal health.
Continuing production activities at Bayer Vapi, which is a core manufacturing site for the company globally, will mean ensuring the availability of agricultural products that could boost crop yields in the approaching kharif season (i.e. the monsoons period from June to October), and eventually a healthy supply for food to feed an ever-growing population. For this Bayer Vapi, had to introduce changes at the production plants that not only complied with Government regulations but also ensured the safe handling of hazardous chemicals.
“Ours is a continuous multi-step chemical synthesis process plant that manufactures active ingredients and for this we use a variety of chemicals with diverse hazardous properties. In view of the longer lockdown period, it was important to complete the reaction steps in various reactors up to the extent of safe storage conditions which would have taken around six days. However, since this intermediate arrangement could not be sustained for a longer time, it was imperative to propose a plan for continuing safe operations,” explains Narendra Shah. “Further, as we manufacture products that contribute to agriculture, public health and animal health industry, we approached the local authorities for permissions to commence operations in order to avoid a crisis at a later date due to shortfall of materials. We were granted an approval to proceed with production of key products with 150 employees per shift on site.”
To support the imposed nation-wide lockdown, Bayer Vapi promptly arranged to scale down production levels at the 85 acres wide manufacturing facility in a phased manner. A ‘Covid-19 Emergency Squad’ team was set up at Vapi comprising of key members from each function to constantly track safety at the factory either remotely or by being on site. They also worked closely with the local authorities and associations for updates on the latest developments and for implementing appropriate measures on a timely basis. To ensure safety at all times, the local leadership team spends several hours each day, including the weekends, to monitor the situation and discuss additional measures. “Everyone who doesn't necessarily have to be on site, works from home,” explains Narendra Shah. “But key personnel who need to be on site to keep the production going in a safe manner are still there.”
Body temperatures of all the employees are monitored at the entry gate with a non-contact thermometer. Each one wears protection masks. There are strict rules regarding social distancing, especially in the DCS (distributed control system) monitoring rooms as well as in the production areas. All training activities and large gatherings have been totally restricted and the canteen facility discontinued since March 10, 2020. Employee safety is the top priority at Vapi. More than ever, this is the most important task for Narendra Shah and his team. They are in close contact with the country leadership team of Bayer in India, the local authorities, and of course even more with their own people through the public announcement system in order to communicate the latest developments and reinforce safety messages from time to time.
On a normal day, you would see over 3000 people (including ~1200 full time employees) at the Vapi production site in Gujarat. But ever since the ‘janata curfew’ on March 22 as a proactive measure, all project construction activities on site were immediately stopped, resulting in the temporary reduction of more than 1800 contract employees. This was followed by the 21-day nation-wide lockdown initiated on March 25 this year, which compelled the team to further reduce the number of employees allowed within the premises to a bare minimum and to ensure enhanced vigilance and maximum safety during this period. Even for those selected heroes, it hasn’t been an easy journey.
Our employees feel the same uncertainty and concerns that we all have especially when it comes to travelling to work. Since the company bus service for employees had to be stopped due to enforcement of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, we had to issue letters with the government order to the selected employees for commuting on their own to the site and also had to co-ordinate extensively with the local police authorities through Vapi Industrial Association to not have them stopped at various check posts. “During the lockdown period, only local employees have been called to work whereas employees staying beyond 30 km radius from factory were advised to stay at home,” says Narendra who has been working here since more than 23 years.
It’s not only the movement of employees but also the transportation of raw material supplies, disposal of by-products and dispatch of finished products from the site that needed special arrangements in the midst of this crises. “The site functional leadership team has been considerably vigilant while exhibiting a commendable sense of passion, collaboration and responsibility to react promptly to this unique situation and draw up a comprehensive plan for mitigating all possible risks,” shares Narendra. From March 27, production of prioritized products was initiated with restricted resources. He ends, “Needless to state, Bayer Vapi will strictly comply with the prescribed conditions while operating within the parameters of the nation's interest to meet the necessities of the people and agriculture.”