Many warehouse-based businesses are now reopening following months of lockdown or partial activity, while others are having to adapt existing processes to protect their workforce and keep operations running smoothly. If this applies to your business and you’re keen to get back to normal operations as soon as possible, there are several ways to prevent coronavirus from spreading in warehouses, without sacrificing productivity.
Achieving this will involve the careful management of work areas in the warehouse and the introduction of new workplace policies. Regardless of your present situation, it is vital to have a plan of action for when everyone goes back to work and to cover the whole building and site, not just the working areas.
There is lots of guidance from lots of sources available, but in a warehouse environment I think you should consider the Three Cs
- Closed Spaces (with poor ventilation)
- Crowded Places
- Close-Contact Settings
They should be considered individually and together because the risk of a cluster occurring is high when you have situations where the Three Cs overlap. Remember Covid-19 is pretty virulent, you are unlikely to just get the one case.
Two other factors are time exposed and the infection dose required to catch it. I am not sure anyone knows the answer to that, but regardless to whether we know the answers here is an approach you could consider:
Many people approach the issue by starting with PPE. It is actually the last thing you look at, after you have considered:
- What people are doing
This includes not just the operation, but accessing the building, use of locker rooms and canteens etc
- Why they are doing it
There are things you have to do in your operation, but there is also things you should look at, e.g. why do operatives congregate or why is there congestion in an area
- What they are doing it with
Operatives use equipment, can it be dedicated to single operative or small group, can they use a particular hand scanner each rather than grab any
- Where they are doing it
Is your layout and operation “Covid Friendly”. For example a product location system that concentrates fast movers to reduce travel time during picking risks concentrating pickers in confined areas.
- When are they doing it
This covers anything from increasing the time window an operation is performed in to reduce the number of operatives working at any one time to staggering sections and shifts to avoid overloading locker rooms.
Having considered the above taking into account the Three Cs you then come to PPE and washing, gel and cleaning and some of the key things to consider:
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and Cleaning
Masks, visors and gloves have their place but are not an infallible solution. Coronavirus is believed to be able to live on surfaces for prolonged periods of time in indoor environments, which means that it can also reside on PPE. You need to make sure that any PPE is correctly used, and you have access to washing facilities and gel at appropriate points. The resilient nature of the virus is also why warehouse vehicles and warehouses themselves should be deep cleaned more regularly. Businesses ought to consider arranging for cleaning to be done before shifts begin and after they end, particularly when one staff team is taking over from another.
The authorities have stressed how important it is for people to remain a safe distance away from each other constantly. Warehouse operatives ought to be given enough room to stand at least one metre apart, in line with current government guidelines, although we recommend giving two or more metres if possible in case guidelines change. For instance, Amazon recently changed the required distance in its warehouses from three feet to six feet, despite the relaxing of social distancing legislation. When it is impossible to socially distance fully, side-to-side or back-to-back working should be adopted, so that people can avoid standing face-to-face. Barriers or screens can be used to keep people separate as well, especially in confined or administrative areas.
Another way to stop coronavirus from spreading in a warehouse is to break up staff teams and have them work on different shifts. When teams are divided into ‘bubbles’, they should keep the same members to reduce the potential for transmission. Breaks should be organised at different times, so that employees avoid coming into contact with colleagues outside their bubbles. In addition, businesses should arrange for shifts to start outside of peak hours, so that workers are not using public transport during this time.
Technology can be extremely useful in making your warehouse Covid-safe. Warehouses that use WMS (Warehouse Management System) software can take advantage of zone picking. This keeps staff members safer by introducing clear boundaries to their working areas. Instead of making operatives traverse the entire warehouse for order picking, they are allocated specific locations to work. If staff members remain in a designated area, they adhere to social distancing guidelines automatically. Better still, their productivity may increase because they spend less time traveling between picks.
Centralised Order Processing
Orders can be moved to a central processing area, after they are extracted from their allocated locations. By ensuring that operatives are spaced correctly along a processing line, or increasing the quantity of processing areas, warehouse managers can achieve social distancing recommendations, even in smaller or confined warehouses.
Covid-19 Support From LPC
You may have noticed that there is lots of opportunity to make your operation safer but also more inefficient. At LPC, we offer a range of warehouse planning services and can advise on adjusting your warehouse layout and practices to make it Covid-19 safe. Make an enquiry today to find out how our logistics consultants can improve the efficiency of your warehouse in these uncertain times.Image source: Unsplash