Expect the unexpected: Closure and startup procedures for long-term shutdown

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At this point, the COVID-19 pandemic needs no preamble or introduction. This virus has reshaped our society and economy. Some businesses are finding new ways to operate, but many are shutdown altogether. In some states, those shutdowns are expected to last for months; in others, governors and mayors are taking steps to reopen aspects of the economy.

However, among signs of hope, we are all facing ongoing uncertainty. Businesses may be required to undertake a long-term shut down more than once. That’s why there is no better time to review your extended shutdown and startup procedures.

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Preparing for prolonged shutdown

Different types of businesses within the wood products and building materials industries have different needs in terms of extended shutdowns, but they share exposures: warehoused products, complex equipment, combustible wood dust, and more. Following these guidelines reduce the potential for theft, equipment breakdowns, maintenance issues, fires or other unexpected events while your business is closed.

Shut down equipment properly. For many types of specialized equipment, manufacturers and suppliers have specific procedures for long-term shutdown and storage. Follow all posted procedures and contact the manufacturer if you have further questions. Position vehicles and equipment stored outdoors near security lighting and so that they can be seen from the roadway.

Store hazardous products properly. Extra care and attention should be paid to storing chemicals and flammable liquids. Flammable and combustible liquids should be returned to their safety containers and/or flammable storage cabinets. Propane storage cabinets should also be locked to prevent tampering and theft.

Reduce electrical hazards. Whenever possible, power should be turned off to nonessential areas. This greatly reduces the potential for electrical fire. In the office areas, unplug equipment chargers. Do not neglect employee break rooms, locker rooms or offices; small appliances should be disconnected.

Make a clean sweep. One final housekeeping effort should be made before buildings are closed, including basic cleaning. Remove rubbish, sawdust and scrap from inside the building, and under or around the machines before the shutdown.

Secure the business. Once all buildings and units are locked, keys should be removed and stored in a secured location. Notify the police, fire department, utilities and the alarm company of whom the emergency contacts are for your company; if you have done so in the past, ensure they have up-to-date information. Outside and around the buildings, please lock any external storage tanks and disconnect the power. Digital assets are just as important. Update computer backup and ensure cloud storage is activated before leaving the site.

Designate employees to check the building. These people should have keys and access cards to tour the buildings and grounds to check for hazards and any needed repairs. Off-site video access of surveillance feeds is another measure your company can use to monitor the site. If any problems are observed, these individuals should have a list of phone numbers to call to report them. Don’t forget to leave the circuits on for the building’s lighting so that the designated employees can tour the site safely. 

Communicate with employees. It is critical to stay in touch with employees throughout a long-term shutdown. Routine communications can support furloughed employees and connect those who are working from home. In addition to having specific instructions on intranet, computer or email systems, supply employees with a print out of key phone numbers and contacts.

We’ve published a step-by-step checklist of long-term shutdown procedures — download it here.

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Getting back to business

In many ways, reopening after a long closure is the reverse of shutting down. Following the right reopening protocol can minimize risk of fire and equipment breakdown, and it can help employees understand their roles. In some circumstances, it can be impossible to take all the time need for the safest possible shutdown. In those cases, these guidelines can still help mitigate the potential for losses. Here is what we recommend:

Keep communicating with employees. Many of your employees will be returning from extended periods away from work or were working at home. Please alert them as soon as possible to any plans to resume operations. Be sensitive and proactive in communication changes in the operations or staffing at your company. Once you are back on site, don’t forget to conduct one final check in the employee break rooms, bathrooms and locker rooms to make sure they are clean and ready for use.

Follow up on shutdown security efforts. Contact the police, fire department, utilities and the alarm company to alert them of your restart date. This is another opportunity to provide them with updated lists of emergency contacts for the business, especially if there were any staffing changes. Outside and around the buildings, unlock and inspect any external storage tanks and other vital areas for the opening of the retail areas or operation of equipment.

Clean house. One last housekeeping sweep should be done before the facility reopens. If pre-shutdown housekeeping efforts missed any rubbish, sawdust and scrap, remove them before restarting equipment, bringing back additional employees or admitting customers. Common, high-traffic areas like the parking lot, sidewalks and building interiors, that the customers will frequent, should be inspected for trip and fall hazards from stock that might have moved or shifted during the shutdown. Make any necessary adjustments or repairs and document these efforts.

Inspect hazardous materials. Before fully restoring power or starting up any equipment, conduct inspections of stored chemicals and flammable liquid containers.

Restart electric with caution. While restoring power to areas in which it was shut down, designate an employee to monitor the areas to identify any problems with the electrical systems, equipment and lighting. This will allow you to observe any electrical issues and reduces the potential for electrical fire or equipment damage. Employees returning to the workstations, offices and retail check-out areas can be enlisted to inspect their immediate areas for damages. They can also closely monitor equipment as it is restarted.

Start equipment properly. As with shutdown, equipment manufacturers and suppliers have documented specific restart procedures for equipment that has been shut down for extended periods of time. Check operations manuals for these instructions and call the manufacturer or supplied if you do not have access to manuals. Finally, inspect and start any mobile equipment and vehicles prior to reopening to ensure they are operating correctly.

To download a step-by-step start-up checklist, click here.

We are all facing a great deal of uncertainty. In times like these, it is critical to have the right insurance partner for risk management and coverage. Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company — now in business for 125 years — has been with the lumber and building materials industry through past crises and we remain here for you into the future. We remain available through shutdowns and start-ups. Contact us at custserv@plmins.com or 800-752-1895, or visit our website for risk management resources for the COVID crisis and beyond

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