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WERC Issues Warehouse Best Practices for COVID-19

April 13, 2020
Supply chain leaders and industry experts address important issues related to the Coronavirus.

The Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) published best practices for managing the Coronavirus pandemic in warehouse operations recommended by a panel of warehouse and supply chain leaders during a webinar. WERC granted us permission to publish an edited version of its report on the topic. The full article is available here. An audio version of the webinar discussion can be fou

All businesses should have a risk management plan that is frequently reviewed and updated to deal with new issues, like COVID-19. Some companies enjoy full-time coverage of this through their supplier management, procurement, loss prevention, or employee safety and health teams.

COVID-19 risks may be unusual, but existing procedures and protocols can be leveraged to deal with it. It is important to bring together all of the responsible parties to review your plans. In the current environment, the best practice is to conduct these meetings using tele/videoconferencing.

Areas to be addressed:

Working with suppliers, and upsets in the upstream supply chain generally. What are your suppliers’ (and their suppliers’) production plans? Do you have alternative sources for products and services? Do you need to reduce inbound order quantity or cancel existing orders? Will you be able to secure the flow of critical supplies?

Working with customers. Reach out to address their general concerns and the possible reduction or increase in orders because of this event.

Working with transportation providers. How stable are the inbound and outbound logistics environments—carriers, brokers, ports, etc? Work with carriers on implementing 24/7 deliveries and pickups where needed.

Your plan also should address maintaining adequate workforce coverage if demand grows beyond normal peaks or if part of the workforce suddenly becomes unavailable due to illness or government mandates. How do you deal with excess workers if demand slows? Can you maintain existing headcount by reducing individual hours?

Do you have plans for covering key employees who could become unavailable due to illness or other reasons? Is there a cross-training strategy? Do you have adequate documentation to guide associates unfamiliar with the processes?

Will there be adequate support for equipment and technology used in your warehouse? Reach out to hardware and systems vendors and support staff to ensure availability of parts and supplies used by in-house maintenance personnel.

Beyond risk management, best practice organizations have a “Disaster Recovery” plan which allows for transfer or consolidation of some operations to other facilities, along with possibly ramping up production and distribution for products in high need. For facilities faced with shutdown or slowdown, how will you bring them back online in a stable manner?

Address Employee Concerns

Best practice organizations understand the concerns of their employees. Webinar panelist Brian Devine, senior vice president of EmployBridge, one of the largest U.S. staffing firms, noted that on March 19 his firm surveyed their associates about concerns regarding COVID-19.

They were asked the following questions:

·     Are your work hours being affected by COVID-19? (Decreasing, Increasing, No Change)

·      Has your workplace taken additional precautions to decrease risks associated with COVID-19? (Yes/No)

·      How concerned are you about COVID-19? (Scale of 1-10)

·      What are you most concerned about right now? (List of seven possibilities)

More than 10,000 responses showed that 53% foresaw their hours decreased, 10% an increase and 38% no change. Regarding additional precautions, 73% said their employers were implementing additional precautions.

On the question of how concerned they were, 72% rated their concerns at a 6 or higher, with the largest group, nearly 41%, rating a 10. Only 16% gave a rating of under 5.

A staffing firm like EmployBridge provides workers to many different industries, so these responses are broad based. Specific industry segments may see different responses. You could expect employment to be up in critical distribution areas such as healthcare and perhaps down in something like school and restaurant supplies.

The responses show the main concerns are job stability and income, family and personal health. The subjects should be the focus of management with respect to employee satisfaction and retention and to the highest degree possible, help maintain a level of stability.

Megan Smith, CEO of Symbia Logistics, recommends understanding the individual risk factors of each employee. What are their needs for childcare with schools closed? Will they need to work a different shift or time off or reduced hours to care for children or sick family members? Understand their anxiety about possibly bringing something home from the workplace. She suggested the use of phone trees as a means of staying in contact.

She and others recommended creating an “Essential Service” letter or card that employees can carry with them to show that they are needed in the event that they are stopped by authorities in areas of restricted travel.

Keep associates active by shifting to a part-time approach where hours may be reduced but jobs are still there. If business is booming, don’t overwork your base because doing so can create dissatisfaction and those who are overworked are more susceptible to illness.

Operations Best Practices

Deb Parme’, vice president of Global SC Planning, and Graciela Cruz, director of global planning at Amway, along with Greg Younghans, president of Reliable Management Solutions, said operational best practices companies should include:

·      A solid communications plan covering management, staff and associates, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders, such as banks and investors. This plan should include regular updates via e-mail and Web portals to discuss what is currently being done and plans for the future.

·      Personal hygiene requirements for employees, including hand washing and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

·      Social distancing rules for the workplace and permitting employees to work from home where appropriate.

·      Increased attention to disinfecting work areas, breakroom and restroom facilities. Instruct employees to conduct a complete between-shift wipe-down of handrails, desks, lifts and other equipment workers typically come in contact with. Studies show the virus can live on surfaces up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastics and stainless steel surfaces.

·      Ensuring adequate quantities and use of hand sanitizers and antiseptic wipes. Consider non-traditional sources—some distilleries and breweries are shifting alcohol to sanitizers.

·      Limiting access to the facility. Meet drivers and other non-essential visitors in the yard vs. having them come into the facility, and if required to enter take their temperatures first.

·      Limit daily breaks and lunch to on-site locations so workers are not exposed to infections outside of the workplace. Limit interaction among employees during shift changes. Conduct regular team stand-up meetings in smaller groups of 10 or less.

·      For new hires, include temperature checks and bar anyone who appears to have a fever or respiratory illness. Also conduct temperature checks of employees arriving and departing the facility.

Pressure on Delivery Business

We are seeing an exponential growth in direct-to-consumer businesses. This will be taxing for most operations and you may need to hire additional part-time or temporary workers to keep up. Also, there may be workers available due to layoffs from other companies. Work with local employers who may be furloughing workers to identify those you can pick up.

Ensure that you and your staffing providers follow guidelines for new hires to eliminate the possibility of bringing the infection in-house. This includes the need for special handling for inbound freight, including sanitizing packaging and pallets. Megan Smith added that some employees are not comfortable with wearing gloves because of allergies, and latex gloves in particular may be an issue.

Gerald Perritt of the Perritt Group recommended preparation of a “care package” for company drivers and others who may need to leave the facility and visit other locations and customers. This would include a copy of the “Essential Service” letter discussed earlier, plus gloves, sanitizers, wipes and other items the drivers may need to have close at hand.

Bill Miller, director of business development for Faure Brothers, pointed out that anytime an infection is discovered, warehouse operators should exercise due diligence in performing both root source analysis and by reaching out to those inside and outside of the facility who the infected employee may have come into contact with.