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    Backstage
    Living with the coronavirus at Krones, Part 9: Business trips and service assignments
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    11. November 2021
    8:10 min.

    Michael Müller works in the Global Safety and Security Department at Krones. What at first glance sounds rather abstract turns out to be an exciting, frequently nerve-racking and definitely never boring field of activity. For Michael is permanently keeping a close eye on all (potential) trouble spots around the world – so as to protect our employees when they are travelling abroad. In the interview, he tells us about his daily work and the challenges it entails, not least during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Michael, what are your responsibilities in the Global Safety and Security Department at Krones? 

    We’re now living in a highly globalised world. You can see that every day. Just look at where cars, electronics and fruits come from. Krones, with a proportion of exports running at over 90 per cent and subsidiaries in more than 100 countries, is also part of this globalisation. But the world has grown together not only in terms of finance, commerce and goods traffic but on many other levels across the board, such as politics and culture.

    As many advantages as this development entails, it certainly does involve risks as well. Global interdependence also means that crises, natural disasters and pandemics in one state or region will heavily affect all others. And this is where my team and I come into play. Our daily tasks include monitoring developments in various countries – for example trouble spots, political uncertainties or the rapid spread of a disease – and making safety-relevant information available when it is needed. If a local situation escalates still further, we draw up safety concepts, trigger a series of warnings or initiate contingency plans. We also look at hypothetical “What if” scenarios.

    Article 26258
    Michael Müller keeps an eye on all (potential) hotspots worldwide – to protect our employees.

    In times of crisis, we are the first point of contact and the central hub for everyone concerned, both in and outside our company. Our employees can get in touch with us if an emergency arises during their business trips, and we will do everything we can to get them out of a crisis zone safely and fast. Erwin HächlMichael MüllerGlobal Safety and Security at Krones

    Since March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a marked impact on our lives …

    The Covid-19 pandemic has presented us with an unprecedented situation. Yes, it’s true, there have been epidemics and pandemics before, like the 1918 flu that was much more lethal, especially given the lack of medical advancements back then. But the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic, in conjunction with a significantly higher degree of globalisation, meant we were all sailing uncharted waters, both in our private and professional lives. 

    How has Krones responded to the pandemic? 

    When you look at how the pandemic unfolded, both the response times it required and the challenges involved are quite obvious: Covid-19 arrived in Bavaria in late January 2020. The national coronavirus crisis team at Krones met for the first time in February. From then on, the situation has been kept under permanent observation and assessed seven days a week. In late February, Krones decided to introduce a 14-day isolation period, covering everyone returning from the risk territories as defined by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

    Of course, we also took a close look at the impact this would have on our customer projects – both in regard to new-machine business and in Lifecycle Service. As far as new kit was concerned, the major questions were: When had deliveries had been scheduled, and when did the client concerned intend to start up production? Is it possible that Covid-19 will cause delays in delivery and installation? If so, to what extent? And of course all the machines already in operation at our customers’ premises had to be kept up and running – maintenance and overhauls being two of the keywords here. 

    We need Krones service staff for performing all this work. And this was where the pandemic’s next challenges were lurking: What are the various quarantine regulations all over the world? Is travelling to the areas in question at all possible – or even necessary? If a country becomes a risk territory only after one of our technicians has arrived there, what do we do then? What protective measures can we take for our employees? What are the hygiene rules in the countries concerned? 

    The issues we had to consider and resolve were many and varied, not to mention multifaceted. By the way, they are all just as relevant today as they were when the pandemic started. For this reason, both our national and international crisis teams continue to meet several times a week, and formulate appropriate measures based on the current situation. 

    Let’s stay with the issue of our service staff – What has Krones done here?

    Protecting our employees, and the client’s workforce of course, is our top priority in every single one of our decisions. And the measures we’ve taken for our service technicians were the same as those for our sales staff.

    In the case of service assignments, our planning team first of all asked the technicians in question whether they wanted to take them on. So it was the employees themselves who took the first decision. In addition, our Executive Board then had to give the “Go ahead” for every business trip. 

    Before any specific service assignment started, we drew up a safety concept for it in close liaison with the customer concerned, based on the relevant government resolutions. In most cases, our concept went beyond state-issued stipulations or applied an even more stringent yardstick. It was imperative that it be formulated as quickly as possible, ideally within just a few hours.

    As soon as the concept was set, the employee involved was informed about all the requirements it contained. But here, we must make it very clear that the protective measures were designed to ensure that the probability of the person falling ill abroad was not higher than it would have been in Germany. And since these measures have proved highly effective, they still apply today.

    And what are those protective measures, specifically?

    The measures cover the period from the start of a business trip to the employee’s return to Germany. And they factor in all the relevant details, such as travel modalities or destination. The resulting requirements include both basic rules, such as mandatory wearing of masks and regular testing, as well as customer- and country-specific stipulations, which in some cases even differed from region to region. Take Germany as an example: Here every state has had its own regulations at times. And often a country’s requirements changed overnight because some governments had to respond quickly to a sudden Covid-19 outbreak in a certain region. 

    What’s more, for most sites, we now also send employees whose sole task is to ensure compliance with the safety and hygiene concepts and to serve as direct contact persons for our service technicians in the event of any questions relating to Covid-19. 

    Article 26255
    The protective measures on construction sites were so designed that the probability of contracting the disease abroad was no higher than in Germany.

    Given all these safety precautions – Were any employees still infected with Covid-19 during their service assignment in the field? 

    Yes, of course there were cases of infection. It was bound to happen. All of the protective measures taken could really only serve to drastically reduce the probability of infection. One moment of inattentiveness is enough, at the airport for example, to catch the virus. With about 2,400 service technicians and numerous other staff travelling on business, we simply couldn’t prevent infection entirely.

    What definitely alleviated matters was the availability of vaccine. Of course, even vaccinated people can catch or spread the virus. But if a vaccinated person catches it, the course of the disease will usually be much less severe. 

    When a service technician from Germany catches Covid-19 abroad, what does Krones do then?

    For Krones, it’s clear that we don’t want to fill hospital beds, especially in regions with high incidence rates and overburdened health-care systems. And in some countries it would simply be impossible to provide the requisite medical care to German standards. 

    For these reasons, we launched our own evacuation efforts and flew the employees concerned back to Germany in a private aircraft accompanied by doctors, of course in full compliance with all safety precautions. One of the safety measures taken with serious cases was private transport in a transparent transport pod fitted with special air filters, for instance. 

    Quite recently, in September and October 2021, this happened in Africa. The number of cases had risen steeply, the health-care system was close to collapsing, and we quickly realised we had to do something. So we took swift action and flew out infected employees – for example from Namibia or South Africa – within a very short timeframe, in full compliance with all protective measures.

    In cases like this, every minute counts …

    Yes, everything does have to happen fast, especially with serious cases. That is why we used all the options available – including helicopters and even private Learjets. But even if we were able to charter a private jet fast, delays were still possible. We still had to obtain the permission to fly over all the countries on the route back to Germany. And when it would appear that every detail had been clarified, we still couldn’t rely on actually getting the slot for departure promised, not knowing whether perhaps the authorities would give another flight priority.

    Article 26253
    Krones has resorted to all options for return operations – including helicopters or even private Learjets.

    In some of the world’s countries, the strict rules issued to protect against Covid-19 have meanwhile been relaxed or even abolished. What does this mean for future trips, and what recommendation does Krones give the travellers concerned?

    The situation has calmed down somewhat in some countries, and numbers are falling. However, this must not lead to a false sense of security. Even if the case numbers in a certain country are falling, they may quickly rise again. That is why we continue to stick with our safety and hygiene concept.

    And that’s precisely our key message to our employees for their trips: Comply with the stipulations. It’s the only way we’ll get through the pandemic together. Keep your distance, follow the hygiene rules. And: Install the Covid alert apps of the countries concerned, so that you’re always kept up to speed.

    11. November 2021
    8:10 min.

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