Behind the Scenes of Wabash National’s COVID-19 Response Strategy

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by Rachelle Henderson, Communications Specialist | Feb 11, 2021

Nearly one year in to the COVID-19 pandemic, the novelty of novel coronavirus has worn away. Throughout the pandemic, Wabash National has kept COVID-19 infection rates low among the workforce, especially given the nature of manufacturing operations. One way the company has achieved this is by maintaining critical alignment among the environmental health and safety (EHS) and human resources (HR) teams. Behind the scenes, there are stakeholders working hard to ensure a safe and healthy workplace environment for all. 

One of those leaders is Director of Corporate Environmental Health and Safety Andrew Frisbie, PhD. He brings to the table nearly 30 years of experience at Wabash National and an expertise in environmental engineering to guide the company’s strategic response to the pandemic. Andrew is a graduate of Purdue University and started working with the company during his time in graduate school. 

“I earned my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and my master’s and PhD in environmental engineering. I have always enjoyed learning and had a strong interest in chemistry. Going to graduate school continued my learning and allowed me to move into the EHS field.” 

Andrew’s graduate education at Purdue and experience at Wabash National have equipped him with a unique skillset to advise on Wabash National’s COVID-19 response strategy.

“As the pandemic has unfolded, there hasn’t been a standard playbook to reference. It is a once in a 100-year event. We’ve seen continually changing, sometimes conflicting, and other times missing guidance. Having a strong technical background has helped with evaluating the available information. That strong technical background extends to the entire EHS team.”

In the broadest sense, EHS helps identify, reduce, and control risks and hazards. The team focuses on protecting the health and safety of employees and the communities in which we operate, live and work. 

“The focus of the EHS team is our employees' safety and protecting our communities. The work includes performing risk assessments, incident investigations, training employees, continually driving environmental and safety improvements, and ensuring we comply with regulations. People are the essential part of our company. By focusing on environmental, health and safety, we can attract and retain people.” 

One of the foundational principles to a successful EHS strategy is a people-first approach. Workplace health and safety require a One Wabash mindset. Additionally, due in part to the pandemic, there is an increased interest in how companies impact communities because there’s a tangible understanding of how safety at work affects safety in a community. In that sense, there are things Andrew wants employees to know about how EHS is responding to COVID-19.

“EHS can’t succeed without everyone’s participation. We have had a constant focus on the pandemic over the last year. We’ve worked to stay ahead of the potential impacts from the pandemic and evaluate all available information to protect our employees. When we have implemented new controls or made changes, it is after carefully reviewing with our pandemic team. I appreciate how everyone has responded to those changes and helped to protect others.”

One of the latest, most promising developments during the pandemic has been the development of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. As more information about the vaccines become available, there are three important things Andrew wants employees to keep in mind when considering vaccination.

“First, vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your family from a serious illness. Second, the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and went through large clinical trials before being available to the public. Finally, people will need to continue to follow all best practices even after being vaccinated. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available. I plan to get vaccinated when it becomes available and recently helped my elderly parent get vaccinated, so I am doing what I am recommending for others.”

While the vaccines offer a sign of hope, there is emerging information about COVID-19 variants that Andrew also monitors. He has advice for employees following this latest development.

“The flu has different variants, so this is not new for viruses. The COVID-19 variants spread more easily. The latest data is indicating variants may cause more severe illness. My advice is to focus on what you can control. When I say that, what I mean is that I want people to continue to do the basics to protect themselves even after getting vaccinated.”

Given the long-term nature of the pandemic, there are permanent trends that may emerge in the EHS landscape as a result.

“A key item is being better prepared. Everyone at Wabash has done a fantastic job to keep us open to provide essential products and services to our customers, who were on the ground transporting and delivering food, household essentials, medicine, and PPE to healthcare workers and first responders. We need to take everything we previously had in place, use what we’ve learned, and build on it. We will be a stronger and more resilient company. The pandemic has also added a new hazard that we consider when evaluating risks. We have a greater appreciation and attention to our employees’ health outside of work.”

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