A SCOTTISH company which has never before made protective visors for health workers is on course to produce 1.1 million in just 12 weeks.

Demand is so great that Alpha Solway has taken on an extra 22 workers to add to its 65 strong workforce at its base in Annan in Dumfries and Galloway. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the company’s main product was chemical resistant protective clothing for workers in industries such as the oil and gas sector but switched emphasis after learning of the need for visors for people on the frontline of the crisis.

Staff at the factory are now working flat out to produce 20,000 visors a day with a shift system brought in to ensure social distancing in the workplace.

It has kept the company going while orders slackened for its usual products but managing director Steven Binnie said his main motivation was to help health care workers who are risking their lives to save others.

“One of the things we picked up early on was that they were struggling for protective visors for people in ICU units and NHS Scotland asked if we could provide some of these,” he said.

“It’s not something we have done before but we looked at it and managed to secure some materials, then made a prototype which was approved.”

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The company was initially asked to provide 5,000 a week but within 24 hours the request changed to 5000 a day as the need for the visors became more urgent.

Binnie said the factory could probably manage but was taken aback when, at the end of the first week, he was asked to produce 20,000 a day.

He said that while he liked a “bit of a challenge” securing materials was difficult as so many businesses had closed because of the lockdown.

With the help of the Scottish Government through Scottish Enterprise the necessary connections were made with suppliers – but the problems were not over as the challenge of maintaining social distancing within the workplace also had to be met.

“It has been difficult to repurpose the production line as they tend to work best if people are close together but we moved to a shift system and are running from 6am until 10pm,” said Binnie, who added that there was a “positive buzz” in the factory.

“Everyone is busy and occupied and we have put a lot of these visors out the door.”

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As there were not enough staff to meet demand the company put an advert on its Facebook page which was answered by 150 people within 25 hours. An additional 22 members of staff have now been employed to make the visors. “People were looking for employment but they also wanted to do something to contribute to people on the front line,” said Binnie.

Offers of help have also come from local businesses and organisations. Environmental consultants Ecogenics allowed Alpha Solway to move materials into their warehouse to free up more space at the factory and local football club Annan Athletic offered their clubhouse.

“We’ve not taken them up on that but it shows the community spirit,” said Binnie.

Each visor the company makes also carries a message for the worker who will wear it, thanking them for their dedication.

“Every product needs to have a batch number and information and there is a little bit of space left on the label so we managed to put in ‘Thank you NHS Scotland – you are amazing’,” Binnie said.

“We’ve had some really nice emails back and messages on our Facebook page from nurses and doctors appreciating it because, let’s face it, when you put these things on it is not for a positive purpose. When they open the bag and see the message there it hopefully makes them smile.”

He said he was proud that the company had risen to meet the challenge.

“In the 12 week period from starting this until when we hope it ends we will have delivered 1.1m visors to NHS Scotland,” said Binnie.

“There are tons of good stories like ours out there with different companies, large and small, doing stuff that is stretching their businesses.

‘‘We worked closely with Scottish Enterprise who linked us with the Scottish Government and suppliers to facilitate things and make everything flow,” he added.