Written by Pat Donovan and Frank Gadwell
Labor shortages, safety precautions, and other disruptions associated with a disaster or pandemic can throw a wrench in normal warehouse operations. At the same time, continued warehouse management is essential to keep supply chains functional, ensure business viability, and serve our communities during these stressful times.
Luckily, warehouse management teams can take simple steps to keep warehouse operations running smoothly.
Revisit Emergency Preparedness Plans
Warehouses should already have emergency preparedness plans in place, and hopefully have updated these plans and educated staff on them in the recent past. Plans that haven’t been revisited in years may be sorely out of date and end up adding to the general confusion rather than helping.
That being said, the recent COVID-19 pandemic may serve as an eye opener for many warehouses that were less than prepared. If this is the case for your warehouse, make the following tasks a priority:
- Revisit evacuations and contingency plans and update them if necessary.
- Inform all management of the protocol for specific emergencies.
- Identify all first responders and communicate this information to plant personnel.
- Ensure you have stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) for emergencies, such as masks and gloves, and that staff know where they are stored.
Implement Risk Management Plans
Risk management and mitigation planning should be an ongoing process, involving continual updates in response to changes in technology, manpower, product assortment, and the marketplace. All warehouses should have existing, up-to-date risk management plans in place, and many companies even have specific teams dedicated to employee safety and health, loss prevention, procurement, and supplier management.
Of course, specific emergencies often present unique risks, as is certainly the case with the COVID-19 outbreak. Warehouse management should leverage existing protocols and procedures while also reviewing and updating plans with all responsible parties over a teleconferencing platform. Topics to consider include:
- Disruptions in the upstream supply chain: Ask about your suppliers’ — and their suppliers’ — production plans. Discuss whether you might need to cancel any existing orders, decrease inbound order quantity, or find an alternative supplier for products and services with the goal of ensuring a consistent flow of critical supplies.
- Customer relations: Reach out to your customers to address their concerns. Open up a line of communication for them to be able to get their questions answered.
- Inbound and outbound logistics: How stable are your ports, brokers, carriers, and so on? Where necessary, collaborate with carriers to implement 24/7 pickups and deliveries.
- Labor shortages: If demand surges or absences spike due to illness or governmental mandates to shelter in place, will you have sufficient employees to carry out operations? Consider cross-training departments to prepare them to step into new roles, if necessary.
- Declining demand: Plan for ways to maintain existing headcount and avoid layoffs if demand dwindles, including tactics such as reducing individual hours.
- Equipment and technology support: Make sure that the supplies and parts that your in-house maintenance team uses are sufficiently stocked. Reach out to systems and hardware vendors and support teams for information about availability.
[Related: Supply Chain Recovery Planning]
Follow Hygiene Best Practices
Pandemics involving highly infectious diseases will require special precautions. As we’ve seen during the COVID-19 outbreak, many nonessential businesses in the hardest hit areas may close. For businesses that remain open, strict hygiene and sanitation best practices are necessary:
- Implement requirements for hand washing, wearing personal protective equipment, and other hygiene practices for associates.
- Stock up on antiseptic wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, digital thermometers, and related products.
- Allow staff to work from home when possible and implement social distancing rules for everyone working within the warehouse.
- Limit access to the warehouse for nonessential visitors. For example, meet drivers in the yard rather than allowing them to enter the facility. Take the temperature of anyone who must enter the warehouse.
- Disinfect work areas, restroom facilities, and break rooms with increased regularity.
- Keep employees on-site for breaks and lunch to prevent exposure to infections outside of the workplace.
- Wipe down all equipment that workers regularly interact with before every new shift.
- Limit employee interactions during shift changes and keep team meetings to groups of 10 or less.
- Check employees’ temperatures as they enter and leave the warehouse.
- Conduct temperature checks for new hires and bar anyone who appears to have symptoms of a respiratory illness.
Now isn’t the time to let things get quiet. In fact, not being open and communicative about what’s going on will only increase employees’, customers’, and stakeholders’ concerns.
Management and executive teams should remain calm and do their best to serve as a reassuring force throughout the emergency. To that end, try to maintain daily communication with:
- Plant employees: Update employees on how the company is ensuring their safety and any relevant action plans.
- Management personnel at all affected locations: Schedule daily debriefs via a teleconferencing platform.
- Facilities in close proximity to one another: Ensure that warehouses are prepared to provide each other with support if necessary.
Additionally, update customers regularly with any information that’s relevant to them so that they know how their needs will be affected.
Hollingsworth’s Commitment to Keeping Warehouses Running Safely & Smoothly
As part of the critical infrastructure of essential services, Hollingsworth’s warehouses are not subject to the shelter in place orders and can continue operating to support our clients and communities. Still, our No. 1 priority is ensuring the health and safety of our work family, and we will continue to roll out additional initiatives to that end.
So far, Hollingsworth has taken the following precautions to promote the well-being of our employees across the nation:
- Increasing cleaning and sanitation efforts across all locations
- Educating employees on social distancing measures and hygiene best practices
- Distributing masks to all our warehouse locations
- Requiring employees to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire to ensure that no one showing symptoms comes to work
- Deploying thermometers and infrared thermal cameras to warehouses
- Implementing a rotational schedule for corporate and senior plant management, ensuring redundancy in leadership in case someone becomes infected
For more information about how Hollingsworth is keeping its employees safe while fulfilling our client commitments, watch the most recent announcement from our president, Mike McNamara, and check our blog regularly for future updates.