The Coronavirus Pandemic has affected all aspects of society from the social to the business work environment. As businesses begin to open worldwide, the work environment has to be modified to ensure safety for workers.
For example, warehouse managers are discovering that there is need for more space on the floor to accommodate social distancing. Warehouses in Europe have found that they can free up space normally used by raw materials or finished goods.
Managers are realizing that storage areas don’t generate profit. Instead, production generates it. So there is a need to determine what products generate profit and what don’t and then tweak things so that the items that attract profit get the priority when it comes to space.
In Europe, warehouse managers are relying on warehouse consultancy services that are now using virtual site inspections to decide how best to utilize their space and inventory. Managers are configuring storage and warehouse spaces within existing footprints.
Some alternatives that have been tried are to expand production areas or to customize workflow. They have found that they can reduce storage areas to gain workspace or they can use automation to reduce physical contacts.
Bis Henderson Space, a warehouse space strategy firm, has even created a white paper offering suggestions on the issue. The paper is titled Warehouse Space: A New Strategy For A New Reality. The paper notes that there is a lack of vision by some warehouse managers when it comes to space needs.
Work Place Safety Guidance
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy for the United Kingdom recently published guidelines to assist warehouses cope with the new reality due to COVID-19. Although the guidelines are specific to the UK, it can offer suggestions to warehouse managers in the U.S. on how to cope with issues that arise due to COVID-19.
One central portion of the guidelines is how warehouse managers can manage risks that arise due to the Coronavirus.
The guidelines point out that warehouse employers have the responsibility to reduce workplace risk. Calling on the use of preventative measures can assist in achieving this. For the work place, the guidelines suggest a number of things to do to assure safety. They include:
• Encouraging hand washing and surface cleaning.
• Permit working at home for appropriate employees.
• Comply with social distancing rules to assure the health of employees who work in a facility.
• If a particular activity cannot be performed due to social distancing, warehouse managers should consider stopping the activity so that the business as a whole can continue to operate.
• Limit how long an activity takes place.
• Use screens or barriers to separate workers from one another.
• Configure workers back-to-back or side-to-side instead of face-to-face.
• Create teams or partnerships that encourage a small number of people working together to limit contact between individuals.
• If the activity cannot be performed with workers face-to-face, then consider stopping the activity.
Extremely vulnerable workers should be encouraged to work at home. They should not be present in the warehouse facility. Warehouse managers are also encouraged to offer mental health support to workers who need it.
Coming To And Leaving Work
The guidelines have suggestions on how to deal with employees coming to and leaving work. They suggest:
• Staggering arrival and departures to reduce crowding.
• Limit the number of workers in corporate vehicles including minibuses. Allow for space between occupants by leaving seats empty.
• Have more entry points to reduce congestion.
• Encourage one-way flow at entry and exit points.
• Offer hand washing facilities or hand sanitizer at entry and exit.
• Use process alternatives for entry and exit points that encourage social distancing.
Moving Around The Worksite
It is essential to assure social distancing when on the warehouse floor. This can be achieved by:
• Reducing non-essential trips including restricting access to some areas.
• Encourage the use of radios or telephones and make certain that they are cleaned between uses.
• Reducing job and equipment rotation.
• Provide hand sanitizers for drivers of forklifts.
• Regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to ensure social distancing.
Workplaces And Workstations
It is essential to ensure social distancing at workstations. This can be achieved by:
• Reconsider workstation layout and line configuration to assure social distancing.
• Using floor tape to mark areas that denote the proper social distancing of 6-feet.
Of course it is advised that you limit the number of people who participate in meetings to minimize if not prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. This can be achieved by:
• Using remote ways of contact rather than in-person meetings.
• When meetings can’t be avoided, assure that participants practice social distancing.
• Provide hand sanitizers in meeting rooms.
• Holding meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms.
• Wearing a mask.
Congregating In Common Areas
It is suggested that workers maintain social distancing when gathering in common areas. This can be achieved by:
• Staggering break times
• Using outdoor areas for breaks.
• Using protective screening for staff in reception areas.
• Offering packaged meals instead of opening a staffed restaurant or canteen.
• Urging workers to remain on-site during working hours.
Of course, it is essential to protect your work force from visitors to the warehouse who may be carriers of the virus. To assure safety in these circumstances it is advised that you:
• Suggest visitors contact employees via remote connections. Visitors who have a need to work at the facility can be allowed to do so in remote working areas.
• Limit the number of visitors to the facility.
• Allowing contract service personnel to perform their jobs overnight when employees are not present.
• Maintain a record of all visitors.
Although these guidelines are specific to the UK, there are many if not most ideas that US warehouse managers can apply.
It is also suggested that you contact the Center for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for guidance.