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Contributing to Europe’s Fight Against COVID-19

May 8, 2020


By Oskar Song Hauming

As the global COVID-19 situation continues to unfold and questions of global supply integrity for essential items persists, Musim Mas’ three oleochemical plants in Europe has delivered record production volumes for the months of March and April. Mr. Frank Breugelmans, the Managing Director of Maschem B.V, Dutch Glycerin Refinery B.V (DGR), and Masphate S.L.U. shares with us how his team are keeping safe yet running at near full capacity. He says, “Since February, we’ve seen up to 65% increase in output. Our people are being stretched, but we are happy to work harder because we know we are contributing to the greater good.

“Globally, there is increased demand for disinfectants, washing agents, and glycerin for foods,” he adds. Working closely with the local governments as part of the EU’s Seveso policy, our plants have been deemed essential and are therefore in operation to meet these demands.

Musim Mas’ Three-Pronged Approach in action

Ensuring the safety of his staff, and customers has been a priority for Frank. He cites these examples of the changes implemented:

  1. Maintaining good hygiene

    • Extensive sanitization procedures
    • Personal Protective Equipment such as masks have been distributed
    • Before the crisis each plant had 30 – 42 people working. It has now been reduced to 2 – 3 on site, with one engineer on standby, tasked with improving Standard Operating Procedures and admin work.
  2. Detecting and isolating
    • Implementation of Working From Home for non-operational and logistics staff since 13 March 2020
    • Restricting movement and contact. Operators only come into contact with each other by passing papers through small openings
    • From production in the plants, transferring to tanks (logistics handled by third parties), our products are transported directly to customers throughout Europe via trucks or through ports.
  3. Proactively support and collaborate with governments and healthcare organizations
    • Compliance with EU Seveso Requirements
    • Bi-weekly updates with officials
    • Products that support healthcare and hygiene being prioritized

Foresight and technology as the enablers

Frank shares that good planning and communication has been key to navigating the challenges presented. He identifies the company’s willingness to invest in technology and automation, making it possible to reduce on-site operational staff to 2-3 per shift for social distancing.

Business Continuity Planning has been crucial to ensuring operations run smoothly. Frank explains, “We’ve been leveraging on digital technology, especially Zoom to facilitate the smooth operations.”

Effusive, he praises how it has been used to facilitate Virtual Town Halls he conducts every month, for each plant, meeting up to 50 people at a time. He posits that the definition of work has changed in this pandemic era, sharing, “My staff are much more productive as travelling times between European sites or to work has been replaced. I conduct business discussions with suppliers and customers virtually, and it keeps everyone safe.”

Agility and equilibrium

Admitting the changes came with kinks that need to be worked on, he says, “Technology makes us feel so connected, but the reality is prolonged isolation makes us feel alone,” says Frank.

Employees working from home were “overworking,” by sending communications beyond office hours, or spending a lot of time on calls, the cracks were beginning to show. Recognizing there needed to be equilibrium, he shifted to focus on productivity. Using Zoom, he established regular group communications.

He mandated that employees had to dress in their regular “work clothes,” for their working hours. This policy effected a mindset change. Encouraging as much normalcy as possible, he held monthly Town Halls virtually for the various plants in different locations. There he provided sales updates, situational reports, and encouraged free discussions.

Frank quipped as he shared an anecdote, “Soon jokes were shared, like for example did you know ‘zoen’ in Dutch means to kiss?” A joke on the Zoom meetings they were all adjusting to. Experiencing some semblance of the life before COVID-19 kept each member motivated and therefore productive.

Conclusion and message of perseverance

Will work as we know it be the same after COVID-19? As lockdowns ease, and hopefully the tide changes, Frank is pensive as he answers, “The world will definitely change, but if technology has already shown us, there can be benefits and drawbacks. The way we work will definitely change in future!”

This episode has indeed taught Frank and his colleagues that our work is vital. It supplies essential products and that each individual’s actions contributes positively in the global fight against the virus. Sending his best wishes he says, “Everyone plays a part, even if they’re staying at home. So please be safe, and we can all come out better, together.”

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