The Warehousing Education and Research Council published best practices for managing warehouse operations during the Coronavirus epidemic.
WERC granted permission to publish an edited version of their article based on a webinar panel of industry experts.
All businesses should have a risk management plan that is frequently reviewed and updated as new issues like COVID-19 appear. Some companies enjoy full-time coverage through their supplier management, procurement, loss prevention or employee safety and health teams.
The COVID-19 risks are unusual, but existing procedures and protocols can be leveraged to help deal with this event. It is important to bring together all of the responsible parties to review your plans.
Areas that need 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 the carriers on implementing 24/7 deliveries and pickups where needed.
Your plan 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 lockdowns. How do you deal with excess workers if demand slows? Can you maintain headcount by reducing individual hours?
Do you have plans for covering key employees who could become unavailable due to illness and other reasons? Is there a cross-training strategy? Do you have adequate documentation to guide associates unfamiliar with processes?
Will there be adequate support for all the equipment and technology used in your warehouse? Reach out to hardware and systems vendors to ensure availability of parts and supplies needed by in- house maintenance personnel.
Beyond risks, best practice organizations have a “Disaster Recovery” plan which allows for transfer or consolidation of some operations to other facilities, along with ramping up production and distribution for products in high need.
For facilities faced with shutdown or slowdown, how will you bring operations back online in a stable manner?
Address Employee Concerns
Best practice organizations understand their employees’ concerns. EmployBridge, one of the largest U.S. staffing firms, said that on March 19 it surveyed associates about their concerns, asking:
- 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 or 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% saw an increase and 38% no change, and 73% said their employers were implementing additional precautions.
About 72% rated their concern level at a 6 or higher with the largest group – nearly 41% — rated it at 10. Only 16% gave a rating of under 5.
The responses vividly depict the workers’ focus is on job stability and income, family and personal health. These subjects should be addressed by management with respect to employee satisfaction and retention and to the degree possible, being able to maintain a level of stability.
Understand 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 bringing disease home.
Create an “Essential Service” letter or card which employees can carry with them to show 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. Also make sure that you don’t overwork your base. This creates dissatisfaction and those who are overworked are more susceptible to illness.
Operational best practices should include:
- A solid communications plan designed for company management, staff and associates, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders, such as banks and investors.
- Personal hygiene requirements, such as hand washing and use of personal protective equipment.
- Establish social distancing rules for the workplace and permit employees to work from home where appropriate.
- Make sure that work areas, break and restroom facilities are regularly disinfected. Conduct a complete between shift wipe-down of handrails, desks, lifts and other equipment. Studies found the virus can live up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastics and stainless steel surfaces.
- Ensure adequate quantities and use of hand sanitizers and antiseptic wipes.
- Limit access to the facility. Meet drivers and other non-essential visitors in the yard and before they enter the facility, 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 between associates during shift changes. Conduct regular team stand-up meetings in 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 when they arrive and depart.
- Institute special handing for inbound freight including sanitizing packaging and pallets.
- Prepare a “care package” for drivers and others who need to leave the facility. Include the “Essential Service” letter discussed earlier, plus gloves, sanitizers, wipes and other items they will need.
- Ensure that you and staffing providers follow the guidelines to eliminate the possibility of new hires bringing the illness in-house.
- Anytime an infection is discovered, exercise due diligence in doing root source analysis. Also reach out to others inside and outside of the facility who the infected party may have had contact with.
FMCSA Alters Drug Test Rules
Enforcement of drug testing rules for truck and bus drivers have changed to allow greater flexibility in regard to training and other deadlines to help meet transportation needs during the Coronavirus crisis.
The change does not diminish federal government prohibitions against interstate operators driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, stresses the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
If the COVID-19 national emergency means fleets are unable to perform random selections and tests to meet the random testing rate for a given testing period to achieve the required 50% rate for drug testing and 10% for alcohol testing, the tests must be conducted by the end of the year.
If an employer is unable to conduct a pre- employment controlled substances test, it cannot allow a prospective employee to perform safety- sensitive functions until having received a negative pre-employment test result, unless the exception in the regulations for trip lease drivers applies.
If an employer cannot administer an alcohol test within eight hours after an accident or a controlled substance test within 32 hours following an accident, the specific reasons why the test could not be conducted must be documented in writing.
In regard to reasonable suspicion testing, FMCSA says the employer also should document in writing the specific reasons why the test could not be conducted as required.
In accordance with current regulations, an employer must not allow a driver to perform any safety- sensitive functions until the return-to-duty test is conducted and there is a negative result. Nothing is changed in this regard.
If follow-up testing cannot be completed, the employer should document in writing the specific reasons why it could not be conducted in accordance with the follow-up testing plan. Fleet managers should include any efforts they made to mitigate the effect of the disruption, such as trying to locate an alternative collection site.
Trucking Groups Push Research
The American Transportation Research Institute and the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association Foundation announced a joint research study seeking to understand the numerous impacts the Coronavirus pandemic is having on trucking operations, both large and small.
The research focuses heavily on a recently- opened survey soliciting critical input from truck drivers and motor carrier staff who are encountering Coronavirus impacts, such as limited shipper access, changing distribution patterns and traffic-related issues.
“This survey will help us confirm what we know anecdotally,” says Tom Weakley, director of the OOIDA Foundation, “that the trucking industry is leading the charge in responding to food and medicine shortages among other critical supplies. We need everyone’s input on this effort.”
Anyone involved in trucking operations is urged to respond. The survey is available on ATRI’s website located here.
“Our goal is to complete the data analysis as quickly as possible, as it can provide important guidance to public and private decision-makers”. says Dan Murray, senior vice president of ATRI.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is a moving target, and we can’t afford to design policies and supply chains around guesswork,” he adds.
In late March. ATRI released data showing that trucking was continuing to move – in many cases faster than usual – to respond to the demands placed on the industry by the pandemic.
ATRI is the nonprofit research arm of American Trucking Associations. The OOIDA Foundation serves the same function for the association representing truck driver independent contractors.