Many non-essential retailers in the UK are now closing their doors to customers amidst the coronavirus pandemic, but online retail is seeing a surge in demand and in some cases, becoming a vital lifeline. eDelivery rounds up insight and best practice from the industry on how warehouse workers, drivers, and customers can be kept safe.
Enforce hygiene laws
Government advice emphasises the importance of washing hands in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Exposure to basic detergent for 20 seconds causes the structure of the virus to break down.
For logistics companies, this means providing hot and cold running water to workers. Workers need to be reminded to regularly wash their hands before and after handling parcels.
Union UNITE and trade bodies the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association published an open statement today calling for logistics companies to enforce hygiene standards as set out in a 2017 act.
Splitting teams, changing hours
Health authorities advise that the coronavirus is primarily spread through face-to-face contact between humans. As it is highly contagious, one person can potentially infect several others. This essentially means that the fewer people come into contact with each other, the better.
One way to reduce the spread of the virus in warehouses is to split standard teams and put them on separate shifts. If a workforce is split, the teams should be kept consistent to minimise the transmission. Break times should be staggered so workers don’t have to come into contact.
Companies should also consider scheduling shifts to ensure they do not require workers to use public transport during peak hours.
Richard Davies, MD of Hattons Model Railways, told eDelivery last week that the company had already changed shift patterns at its warehouse to allow for two separate teams each working a longer shift for three days per week.
From 30 March the company will be cutting its warehouse operations down to a core team of seven or eight people running an eight-hour shift. Davies had suggested that retailers could agree with competitors to temporarily shut down their warehouse operations but the proposal did not win support from other companies in his industry.
Ensure employees take sick leave
Companies should ensure anybody who has symptoms stays home. However, if workers are unable to make their living any other way they may feel incentivised to work even if ill.
It has extended sick pay entitlements so that they apply from the first day. The government is due to announce new measures to help self-employed workers later this week.
Social distancing within warehouses
The government emphasises the importance of observing a safe distance from other people at all times. Warehouse workers should be provided with adequate space to stand the government recommended 2 metres or 6.5 feet apart.
For example, Amazon has now increased the mandatory distance from 3 feet to 6 feet in its warehouses.
Again, physical separation is considered key to preventing transmission of the virus. On the doorstep, many couriers and grocery companies are already observing social distancing rules as they drop off parcels.
For example, Royal Mail will no longer be handing over hand-held devices to allow customers to sign for items, instead simply taking their names.
Morrisons drivers are now placing orders on customers’ doorsteps and contact them via telephone to tell them it’s there. They will also be instructed not to enter customer homes or take carrier bags from them.
Ocado is pursuing a similar policy, saying drivers will knock on doors and place the bags on the doorstep to be taken inside. They will no longer carry them into the home or hand them over directly.
The virus is highly resilient and can survive on some surfaces for hours and others for days.
Cleaning should be made much more stringent, both in warehouses and in vehicles. Companies should bring in regular slots before and after shifts, especially when changing over between different teams.