COVID-19 – Shutdown of a Distribution Centre
SCLAA National Chairman
Someone presents on site, at your Distribution Centre with COVID-19, what do you do?
It’s an interesting question to ask and very valid in Australia today, but it was a question I was just asked on my phone. I wonder what would have been the reaction just 3 months ago, which now seems a lifetime away.
As a risk consultant, I am always looking at the potential fall out for my clients, whether it be financial, cost or even jail time. Staying ahead of the curve is critical in managing your risks and from my perspective only the top 10% of Supply Chain managers do that really well, even if they haven’t achieved their plan, they are still considering and working all of their risks.
There has been mad panic from Corona fall out and we’ve seen toilet paper shortages among other things. If you turn your mind towards third world countries and read up on their anecdotes, you sure will be thankful you live here in Australia, no matter what the madness may seem to be.
But let’s take a moment to step back from the fact that someone may actually present to your workplace with Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
As a principle place of business, you have a duty of care to your workers, full stop. You must do everything in your power to protect them and those who frequent your site as well, whether it be delivery drivers, cleaners, security or any other persons as a PCBU (or persons undertaking a business undertaking). On top of that, we all want to see the back of COVID-19 and we all want to ensure socially that we can make an impact and ensure we do not pass this on as our elderly and vulnerable as they are at significant risk.
So, lets run through the process, one Supply Chain professional to another.
In the UK during the GFC and other Distribution Centres around the world I have worked, I have been involved with the shutdown of Distribution Centre. But they were all planned, whether it be Christmas, Good Friday or other types of shutdowns. Not many Distribution Centres run 24/7, 365 days per year, but they do exist I’m sure. Industries that come to mind are freight forwarding and petroleum for example, even power stations of old would have a supply chain of Coal behind their operation. Centre
But if someone presents with COVID-19, tomorrow morning, that isn’t going to qualify as a planned event and if you must shut down, it certainly would be planned.
If everyone had to walk off site right now, how would you even go about that?
The planning comes from before that moment, when someone presents with COVID-19. It comes now, before someone rocks into work with a dry cough or temperature.
Entry and Exit.
Most large workplaces have multiple entries and exits in place, and the suggestion to use one and not all and ensure that one is used only, is so that you can open others up. A known ‘clean’ area(s) that may be used in case an area in your building is at risk of exposing others. We know COVID-19 will live well on plastic for 12 hours and metal for 24 hours, so the risk of someone touching a space while infected and then an uninfected person touching the same place is very real.
If there is a security station on site which people must pass, please ensure there is a place to wash your hands and ensure that your protocols consider the washing of hands before anyone walks on site. Controlling who and when people come on site is a large factor and will help you answer any questions later down the track if health officials ask questions as to who may have been on site.
Ultimately, one entry and exit point is a great way to ensure that a singular pathway on and offsite is used by everyone.
Ensure that people do not bring large amounts of personal belongings or anything that may not be left behind. If you do have someone present with COVID-19 on site, you may have to advise others that they cannot enter a space that has been contaminated. That space may hold belongings of others.
Many DCs are security controlled and bags must not enter the DC at any time in those circumstances. I would highly recommend that bags are not brought on site for any reason. Therefore, people on site would not have a reason to go back to their belongings for any reason, should you need to quarantine an area.
As a CoR professional, I know how important it is to ensure that you do not put drivers at risk, in any circumstance. But a planned shutdown has cut off times pre-planned for those delivering or picking up from site.
So how do you manage this aspect. If you need to shut down your DC at this very moment?
Two main options come to mind immediately. The first is easy and that is to redirect inbound trucks to other points in your greater supply chain to be unloaded. Then send everyone from your infected DC home.
The second is a little more difficult but may be the preferred option in most circumstances. I’d like to write more on this point, but I will simply sow the seed in this instance.
This option would require you to split your workforce into two groups. Group A, along with their resources such as forklifts and reach trucks and Group B with their forklifts and reach trucks as well. If group A has an employee present for work, you can be assured that this will be contained to group A resources and Group B will have access to clean resources.
For a short time, whilst the risk is still present within the workplace, you could potentially shut down group A and allow Group B to work the necessary areas to unload inbound vehicles only, in the areas only associated with Group B.
Whilst it may seem difficult to have almost an apartheid scenario in your DC, it may allow you time to wind your DC down with necessary resources working critical aspects of your Supply Chain, until the storm passes.
This is a critical element. Firstly, soap and disposable hand towels are critical. If you’re relying on hand dryers, I would remove them immediately as they are known to ‘blow’ particles including bacteria around the toilet area when in use. Unless you have HEPA-Filters on your hand dryers, stop using them!
Ensure to close off one toilet block if you can, to allow for the toilet block to be opened if you need to quarantine any other areas. If you’re trying to ensure a clean slate for a period of time, this is critical, to ensure a clean space in case another has been deemed unsafe due to infection. Even better if it is in a different part of your Distribution Centre.
Ensure you always have sufficient security on site, to ensure you can have sufficient crowd control. You want to ensure that people do not go where you do not want them, and you want to ensure that those who come on site are prepared sufficiently before they walk on site and should something go wrong, while they are on site.
You may need to ensure that 100-200 employees are directed offsite in a particular manner at the drop of a hat, so please ensure you consider this in your plans.
We all have (or should have) traffic management plans in operation. But please get them out and consider where your staff are working on site at any given time, the areas that you may need to use in an evacuation, not to mention areas that you may still need to consider using whilst you wind down your DC.
Once you have considered these elements, it is critical that you brief your teams and ensure you have strict plans in place to wind down your DC. It will take time to wind your DC down potentially, so please ensure you factor in reasonable time frames to do this effectively.
Consider your risks, which are your staff and inbound freight, not to mention your customers, whether they be other DCs, retail outlets or residential. You must notify those which critically must know what is going on to ensure the safety of those around you.
You don’t necessarily have to call out the air raid sirens, keep it brief and to the point.
In closing don’t forget to log anyone who may have been onsite. You will all require testing and the Health Officials may need to speak with you and ask many questions later. Keep your data safe and sound.
Best of luck.