The chemical industry is among the manufacturing automation sector’s “essential critical infrastructure” that has a responsibility to maintain its normal work schedule during the response to the novel coronavirus Covid-19, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A March 19 memo from the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) gives a list of sectors that have workers who fulfil vital roles. Other industries approaching the manufacturing automation sector deemed critical are the chemical, energy, water and wastewater, transportation and logistics, public works, critical manufacturing, hazardous materials, defense industrial base. Others listed are financial services, healthcare/publich health, law enforcement, public safety, first responders, food and agriculture, public works and other community based government operations and essential functions.

The list is “advisory in nature” and not considered to be a directive or standard. Rather, it is intended to “assist prioritizing activities related to continuity of operations and incident response, including the appropriate movement of critical infrastructure workers within and between jurisdictions.”

In the chemical industry workers are deemed critical that support:

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  • Chemical and industrial gas supply chains, including those who work at chemical manufacturing plants, in laboratories and at distribution facilities, as well as those who transport raw chemical materials to the producers of industrial and consumer goods
  • Safe transportation of chemicals, including those supporting tank truck cleaning facilities and workers who manufacture packaging items
  • Production of protective cleaning and medical solutions, personal protective equipment (PPE) and packaging that prevents product contamination
  • Operation and maintenance of facilities (particularly those with high risk chemicals and/or sites that cannot be shut down) whose work cannot be done remotely, including plant contract workers who provide inspections
  • Production and transportation of chlorine and alkali manufacturing, single-use plastics and packaging that prevents product contamination, including glass container manufacturing

The CISA urged identified sectors to use their judgement and appropriately balance public safety when ensuring continued delivery of critical services.

Several states, including California, New York and Illinois, have followed the DHS lead, declaring the chemicals sector essential and allowing manufacturing and related services to continue despite work-at-home. California Governor Gavin Newsom, for example, on March 22 clarified his executive order from three days before to include “employees of companies engaged in the production of chemicals” among those who qualify as “essential.”

The DHS guidance follows a letter from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) last week emphasizing it is “vital” for the chemicals industry to continue production during the response to Covid-19.

In response to its issuance, the trade group said: “As state and local governments make their decisions regarding Covid-19, we fully expect them to rely on this DHS guidance and not place any undue restrictions that would impede chemical production, including the ability of employees to travel to work and the transportation of material to and from chemical facilities.”

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