How to Make Your Warehouse a Safe Environment During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond
By: Burt Sims, IAPHL Member
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses responded by having office employees work from home or by closing their doors entirely. However, many communities are starting to reopen, and when you have a warehouse to run, working from home isn’t an option. Employee safety is still a top priority, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in some areas. With this in mind, put some new procedures in place that will help make your warehouse as safe as possible for employees, customers, and everyone else you do business with.
Revisit Warehouse Procedures
Taking some time to analyze your warehouse procedures is one of the best ways to improve safety. Even the best-run warehouse can have inefficiencies, especially if you haven’t examined your procedures in a while. But when you look at warehouse best practices, you will likely find ways to increase efficiency and ultimately reduce the number of people on any given item.
Part of what it takes to implement best practices is hands-on work, such as determining whether your layout is efficient. Operating efficiently also requires the right tools, and in today’s modern warehouse, that includes having a good software system and automating processes. Some businesses try to get by with spreadsheets or by overlapping with accounting software, but doing this is a mistake that will cost you. The right warehouse management software should make warehouse operations more efficient and effective, from receiving to shipping and everything in between. Automation solutions include automated storage and retrieval and using a conveyor system. The benefits of process automation in your warehouse include improved accuracy and efficiency, reduced worker fatigue, and decreased operating costs.
Revisit Employee Policies
Addressing warehouse procedures is a positive step that will improve efficiency and safety during the immediate crisis as well as over the long term. Along the same lines, it’s also smart to revisit employee policies, especially regarding illness. As Printing Impressions explains, businesses basically have two options for identifying whether an employee may be sick. One option is to rely on employees to self-report if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. The other option is to screen employees for symptoms at the start of each shift. Whichever you choose, make sure you communicate all policies clearly while also addressing employee concerns.
It’s also smart to consider general workplace policies that may help reduce the risk of infection. Make sure all employees are aware of the CDC’s basic guidelines for social distancing, such as maintaining a distance of six feet apart. Employees should also have access to personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and gloves. If your warehouse already uses items like safety gloves, you will also want to have policies to prevent cross-contamination, such as times when employees should use a new pair of gloves.
In addition to social distancing basics, businesses have gotten creative about how they reduce contact in other ways. For example, some companies require employees to take staggered lunch breaks or to come in on a staggered schedule. Another risk factor is when employees come in close contact to communicate, often without even thinking about it. If this is an on-going problem in your warehouse, an easy solution is to use two-way radios so that employees can easily and safely communicate from a distance.
Along with adopting policies that promote social distancing, warehouse managers also have a responsibility to clean and sanitize surfaces. Make sure you have disinfectants that are approved for use against COVID-19, and keep a checklist of high-touch surfaces that need to be sanitized most frequently. You can also keep air cleaner by making sure your facility has high-efficiency filters and adequate ventilation.
Employees should also have access to products for personal hygiene, including soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You may also want to provide disinfecting wipes so that employees can clean their own work areas or other surfaces whenever they choose.
Many of these changes are small, while others may take more time to implement. Don’t underestimate the importance of these safety measures, though. We owe it to our employees, customers, and our communities to do all we can to reduce exposure. And remember that even the smallest changes can make a big difference in increasing safety for everyone.
Photo credit: Pixabay