Preparing For A Black Swan On Your Packaging Line With Safety And Grace

The Business of Packaging

The year 2020 has been like no other. Who knew that our world would be turned upside due to COVID-19? It has been surreal, with nightly news reports consisting of tallies of deaths worldwide, hospitals overflowing with patients, and even temporary morgues constructed to help manage the crisis.


A worldwide pandemic.. it was almost unimaginable; a black swan. A black swan is a term popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a renowned essayist. According to Taleb, "a black swan is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences."


Nurses and doctors quickly more noticeably became our heroes. People were asked to stay at home. Schools were closed, grocery store shelves emptied, and people began to hoard paper towels, sanitizers, and even toilet paper. Essential workers were asked to step up. Many businesses started to suffer.


Would they be able to meet their customers' demands, would their supply chain stay intact, and would they be able to keep their employees safe? Would they be able to navigate through this rare and unforeseen event gracefully?


In this article, we will use a story of our own experience here at Industrial Packaging in dealing with a black swan event in our facility and provide you with actionable items that will allow you to do the same, should you find yourself in a similar position.


Understanding And Communication


Seek to understand the facts. The media is quick to share stories; they capture the heartbreak and the panic of those eager to speak.


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However, our leadership at Industrial Packaging focused on the facts. What do the experts say about the Coronavirus? What is the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reporting? How can we get out ahead of what is coming? What do we need to do now?


Actionable Items:


  • Listen to the experts.
  • Apply the science.
  • Seek to better understand the facts.
  • Ask relevant questions.
  • Apply the knowledge attained.


Communicate With Your Employees


We shared the facts with our employees. The Coronavirus is real. Some people are more likely than others to become severely ill. Older adults and people with medical conditions are more at risk. It is an airborne virus, and it is very contagious.


These are the facts. We have made changes in our facility to ensure it is a safe and sanitary work environment and will continue to do so. We are going to keep Industrial Packaging a safe place to work. We communicate daily with our employees, letting them know what is going on in the country and our state. We also share how to keep safe at work and home, as recommended by the CDC's experts.


Actionable Items:


  • Implement safety first.
  • Share the facts with your employees.
  • Make changes based upon the science.
  • Keep communication channels with all employees open.
  • Follow the experts recommended guidelines.


Communicate With Your Customers


We let our customers know what is happening in our plant and how we are taking care of our employees, cleaning our facility, and making modifications to our break rooms and sanitizing procedures, which by extension, helps to keep our clients safe.


We are flexible, understanding that they are going through their own set of challenges, and orders may change daily and even hourly as supply chains are strained. We let them know what we can do to help them.


What do our customers need? More of one product, less of another? We continue to strive to understand and to be nimble and to assist.


Actionable Items:


  • Be flexible in response to customer needs.
  • Take extra precaution in your facility to protect your customers.
  • Make on-going modifications to ensure safety protocols are met.
  • Stay in constant communication with clients and present your protocols showing how you are helping to protect them.
  • Continue learning about customer concerns and make changes as needed.


Helping Your Employees


What do our employees need? We ask them, and they tell us. At home, they may need necessities like paper towels and thermometers! They ask, and we deliver. We are here for you, even with the small stuff.


Actionable Items:


  •  Meet your employees needs, both at work and outside if necessary.
  •  Find out if they require assistance and provide it.
  •  Find opportunities to help ease the upheaval of the event.


Preparing For Change


What do we need? We work with our approved suppliers to secure the PPE and approved sanitizers and materials required for the long haul (the next six months.) We outsource additional suppliers to fill any gaps that may result from demand.


Actionable Items:


  • Find out what you need to meet this event and acquire supplies.
  • Implement the proper sanitary and PPE supplies.
  • Outsource new vendors when filling a need for a product you cannot currently source from your current vendors. 


Protecting Your Employees And Customers


Following the CDC's guidance, we have made many changes that will remain in place over the long term. We continue to require everyone to mask up every day and provide all employees with clean disposable masks.


Hand washing is one of the best things that we can all do to stop spreading germs, so it is essential to hold refresher training on doing it right.


Male washing hands in sink.


We installed scanning machines to test handwashing efficacy. Additional break rooms were added with plexiglass dividers on lunch tables to allow for social distancing. We remodeled working spaces that did not otherwise qualify for social distancing with plexiglass partitions and walls.


Hand sanitizers were added throughout the building. Sanitizing of high touch surfaces areas is now completed several times per day.


Our team developed daily check-in protocols. Managers greet and interview each employee asking how they feel and if they have any flu-like symptoms. Thermal body scans are the new daily norm for all. We hand out clean face masks, and we sanitize our hands upon entering the building.


Contract tracing was established. Employees who work together stayed together throughout the day, including designated tables for lunch and breaks. We established an employee team to monitor CDC guidelines and research ways to develop and foster a safe and sanitary work environment continually.


Actionable Items:


  •  Implement new permanent changes to ensure enhanced safety protocols.
  •  Develop new protocols to meet new challenges.
  •  Implement new tools to enhance your approach to changing safety needs.
  •  Bring in new technological advancements to augment your safety efforts.


Evolving Through New Challenges


In the fall of 2020, we moved into our new facility, designed with health and safety in mind. A full-time nurse now joins our Industrial Packaging team, further illustrating our commitment to creating a healthy environment for our employees.


In the end, we consider the black Swan, that unpredictable event- that one in a hundred year kind of pandemic that rocks the entire world as an opportunity. We learned to understand the facts, react quickly, communicate clearly, protect our people, and continue to look ahead and be prepared.


Taleb states that a black swan event depends on the observer. For example, what may be a black swan surprise for a turkey is not a black swan surprise to its butcher; hence the objective should be to "avoid being the turkey" by identifying areas of vulnerability in order to "turn the Black Swans white


This pandemic has caused us to pause and consider what lies ahead.  We continue to strive to make our facility a safe place where people want to work, not just a reaction – but a commitment.


A white swan.



About Ingrid Sweeney, Compliance Manager

I love to travel! I have not been everywhere, but everywhere is on my list. While at work, I enjoy the adventures of food safety, exploring new regulations, and making sure our products are safe, fresh, and appealing.