May 20, 2020 / 7:07 PM / 3 months ago

At Fiat Chrysler's Brazil plant, production resumes with safety checks

BETIM, Brazil (Reuters) - Before going to work these days, employees at the Brazilian unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCHA.MI) have to get a health check using a mobile app every morning.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles assembly workers build a 2020 Argo, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Assembly Plant in Betim near Belo Horizonte, Brazil, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Washington Alves

It is one of several measures the automaker has implemented to fight the novel coronavirus in South America’s top auto producing country. Carmakers in Brazil cautiously restarted production this month, concerned not just about the virus spreading, but also about whether there will be any demand for the cars amid the health crisis.

But low demand also means less workers, which is helping keep employees apart.

At FCA - Brazil’s top auto seller when you combine its brands Fiat and Jeep - only 65% of its 11,000 workers are going to its factory in Betim, in the state of Minas Gerais. Others are furloughed or work from home.

After they pass a mandatory health test at home, more than 90% of workers get to the factory by taking company buses, said Neylor Bastos, who heads FCA’s health operations in Latin America. The company expanded its bus fleet, he said, to ensure the vehicles operate half full for social distancing.

“At the plant, we have a system that controls worker temperatures,” Bastos said. “All people are monitored and if anyone has a temperature over 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit), that person will go straight to the medical facility ... and then goes home.”

He said if any worker tests positive for coronavirus, they will deep clean any areas where the person worked within a radius of 4 meters (13 feet), and trace any interaction the person may have had with nearby workers.

Fiat Chrysler does not have a private supply of coronavirus tests, but Bastos said they are confident they can get tests through the national health system for any workers that need it, even though Brazil’s health care system is strained.

So far, Fiat Chrysler has not reported any coronavirus cases, the company said.

Calls to the metalworkers union in Betim went unanswered.

(This story corrects to FCA expanded its bus fleet instead of bought more buses in paragraph 5)

Reporting by Washington Alves in Betim, Brazil and Marcelo Rochabrun in Sao Paulo; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Grant McCool

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