South Carolina-based company with global reach looks locally for pandemic protection

September 29, 2020
This screen grab from a Zeus video on YouTube shows an employee at work before the pandemic.

Serving as corporate safety director for a South Carolina-based company with global reach is a big, challenging job in the best of times. Then came the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was terrifying,” said Chris Worley of Zeus Industrial Products, referring to the moment he realized that COVID-19 was a real threat to the more than 1,700 employees whose safety he oversees. 

“I mean especially when you realize this isn’t – you’re not worried about somebody catching the flu. You’re worried about somebody possibly dying when they get this.”

Many of Zeus’ employees work in close quarters building medical and industrial tubing, along with optical fiber, wire and other materials. Along with its corporate headquarters in Orangeburg, the company has several facilities in South Carolina, one in New Jersey, one in Ireland and a sales office in China. Zeus also owns the Orangeburg Country Club and a wedding facility.

The last thing Worley wanted was employees or members of the public getting sick from the contagious coronavirus. So he and his team quickly put together a plan, creating a COVID-19 task force, figuring out who could work from home, installing thermal scanners to take employees’ temperature as they come to work, moving machinery to create more space between people working in plants and putting up barriers, among other things.

But they didn’t stop there. They decided to reach out to public health specialists with the MUSC Health Back2Business program to see what else they could do. MUSC Health launched the program to help businesses operate as safely as possible during the pandemic, with experts who make recommendations tailored to each organization’s needs.

Airplane with Zeus logo over it. 
Zeus' customers include aerospace manufacturers. Screen grab from Zeus video on YouTube.

“We’ve had a long relationship with MUSC. Our founder and owner of our company really has embraced MUSC,” Worley said. Frank P. Tourville and his wife, Pearl, recently made a donation to help build what became known as the Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion, which is part of the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. There’s also a Frank P. Tourville Sr. Arrhythmia Treatment Center at MUSC Health.

So it was an easy decision to extend that relationship to workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic. “Our initial thought was, ‘Let’s get MUSC involved and get them to look at our facilities and tell us what we’re doing well and what we need to work on,’ especially in areas dealing with the public every day. That kind of led to, ‘We should bring them in and have them also look at our production facilities and give us an idea of what we can do better.’”

Aynsley Birkner of the Back2Business team became his MUSC Health liaison. She said Zeus was already off to an excellent start. “It was evident how much they care about their work environment and prioritize health and wellness. They just really went above and beyond. They were eager to find out what else they could be doing.”

Worley said he quickly learned they could be doing even more to keep employees and the public safe. “Aynsley was extremely helpful in pointing out things we had missed, especially when it came to high-touch areas.” High-touch areas are surfaces that are frequently touched, often by multiple people.

“She was also extremely helpful with our food service, telling us proper protocols for handling food. A lot of it we were doing, but she pointed out quite a few things.”

For example, Birkner suggested that a payment system in Zeus’ employee breakroom shift from requiring a thumbprint to requiring a swipe of the employee’s badge to reduce the amount of contact.

Birkner also scrutinized Zeus’ production rooms, where a lot of people work together. Among other things, she noticed that special gloves for working with Teflon products were being used by multiple people. That worried her. Zeus responded by buying each worker his or her own pair.

The Back2Business team’s recommendations are detailed in a manual now in Worley’s hands at Zeus. It contains everything from general information about COVID safety to really specific steps and processes tailored to Zeus’ sites.

Birkner also stays in touch with Zeus, updating recommendations as new information comes in. Worley is pleased with the results. “For us, it’s been extremely beneficial,” he said.

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