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On a recent ProcessMAP EHS Leadership Roundtable, we heard from Jason Johantges, Director, Environmental, Health and Safety at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. Jason was one of the ProcessMAP customers who presented on our very first Roundtable on March 31, 2020. It was fitting that Jason returned to the Roundtable to share his perspective on COVID-19 one year after we began lockdown in the United States. Jason also recently led a panel discussion for The National Association for EHS&S Management (NAEM) with a group of his peers related to benchmarking the critical elements of pandemic response plans.
Headquartered in Marysville, Ohio, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is passionate about helping people of all ages express themselves on their own piece of the earth. With approximately $4 billion in sales, the company is the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products for lawn and garden care and indoor growing and also the largest distributor of retail hydroponic products in North America.
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company was deemed an essential business during the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic took hold in North America and more people stayed close to home, consumers turned to gardening as a form of respite and release. The result has been an extraordinary demand for Scotts’ products. Working closely with its partners, Scotts continued getting products to consumers at a time when consumers needed them most.
Looking back to one year ago, when Jason shared his pandemic preparedness comments on the ProcessMAP COVID-19 Roundtable, he emphasized the fact that Scotts already had a pandemic preparedness plan in place. When surveying the attendees on the Roundtable a year later, we learned that just over 21 percent of attendees had a written pandemic plan in place, and nearly 70 percent of participants did not. Scotts was fortunate to have developed their plan in early 2008 when SARS became prevalent. As it faced the Coronavirus outbreak, it helped the safety team to understand their roles and responsibilities when it became apparent that COVID-19 was a serious public health crisis and that critical decisions would need to be made quickly.
The Scotts corporate pandemic team consisted of an executive crisis management team, an operational crisis management team and a local pandemic team. The executive team members were involved in such decisions as when locations would be shutting down, and when certain employees would be working remotely. The operational crisis management team disseminated that information to the right people across the company to be able to execute on those decisions.
The local pandemic teams included a point person at each Scotts location, whether it be an office building, distribution, or manufacturing facility, who was responsible for taking the information and decisions that were made at the executive level and ensuring execution at the site level. This included associate building access control, visitor access, virus prevention protocols, cleaning and disinfection, front-line communication, managing and distributing PPE and much more.
Within Scotts, EHS played a crucial role, interacting with all levels of the crisis management team, providing regulatory guidance information including messages from federal, state and local governments in the United States and in Canada, where each province had slightly different rules and requirements. The safety team also developed a COVID-19 playbook early in the process, specifically designed to address all the things Scotts needed to do as a company to handle COVID-19. Issues to be addressed included company travel, where employees would be able to stay, and where employees would be allowed to eat. Much of corporate travel during COVID-19 was reduced from air travel to simply driving from site to site.
The safety team also had to ensure that all company sites had what they needed to operate, including PPE, cleaning materials, and temperature-taking materials. The team created a safety warehouse at their flagship location in Marysville, Ohio, that became the equivalent of a FEMA warehouse with two trailers. The team had an inventory of essential items and would distribute those items to their locations until those facilities were able to secure their own materials.
Frequent and regular communication was also critical during the pandemic. The safety team recognized that flexibility was also important, as the situation was changing rapidly, and as changes occurred, updated communication was vital. The team had a dedicated safety page on the company intranet site devoted exclusively to COVID-19, including information about health checks, supplies available in their warehouse, five-minute safety talks and module training. The company also created podcasts to talk about the Coronavirus with guests including doctors on the company’s medical support teams and other corporate leaders to keep employees informed. Scotts also conducted quarterly town hall meetings where executives talked about the state of the business, effects of the coronavirus, the availability of vaccines and other topics.
The Scotts safety team had full support of the corporate executive leadership to implement safety standards and provide the necessary supplies and equipment that employees needed to perform their jobs. The team created guides specifically about PPE, and what steps needed to be taken when employees were not able to social distance and had to work within six feet of each other.
Scotts employees adhered well to the guidance the safety team put in place. Employees were compliant with social distancing, working with barriers, staggering lunch, and other breaks to limit the number of people in each space and to maintain proper social distancing. Scotts hired employees whose job was to clean all the common touch points, including restrooms and break rooms, to frequently clean work areas. The employees were very appreciative of the additional cleaning and sanitizing that Scotts put in place and responded positively to the enhancements that working through COVID-19 required.
Some of the facility-level changes the safety team made included the installation of air-purifying HEPA filters for common areas such as break rooms, to better clean the air in these locations. Scotts intends to maintain HEPA filters to provide a better breathing zone for its employees. The company also invested in touch-less dispensing at its sites for coffee, ice, or water, and implemented apps to reduce physical contact with areas where bacteria could develop.
Safety training took on greater importance for Scotts during the pandemic. The company deployed five-minute safety talks through its corporate intranet, and it utilized training modules on the coronavirus through its LMS system. In retrospect, the safety team recognized that paying attention to other countries’ response to the pandemic outside of the United States was very instructive. For example, in Asian countries which were used to dealing with respiratory issues and viruses, people are very accustomed to wearing masks and were more accepting of temperature taking early in the process.
Communication continues to be key for the Scott’s safety team as we have reached the one-year mark in managing the COVID-91 pandemic in the United States. The team continues to refine and edit its pandemic preparedness plan, recognizing that it is a useful foundation and template for unexpected events that could occur in the future. The team learned to be flexible and adaptable, and to use the written framework plan they had in place as a guide for how to move forward in the future.