As coronavirus shelter-in-place restrictions settled into place across the United States, most warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) stayed open as essential businesses. By the nature of the work, warehouses and DCs often involve workers coming into close proximity with each other. Early on, many industrial facilities that failed to implement appropriate protective measures for their employees ultimately went through a series of hurried closings, cleanings, and re-openings to combat outbreaks of COVID-19.
Given the lack of long-term data on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, experts are unclear about what happens next. Some countries are already reporting a second wave of infection, and many experts believe it likely that a second wave will hit the United States before the end of the year. It’s also possible that any second wave could coincide with the traditional American flu season and cause as-of-yet unknown complications.
As such, it’s important that essential warehouses and fulfillment centers take appropriate precautions to mitigate the risks posed by coronavirus, influenza, and other contagious respiratory diseases. Here are some tips for keeping your workforce safe and avoiding expensive downtime in warehouses and distribution centers.
1. Shared surfaces
Warehouse workers often touch the same equipment and surfaces repeatedly through the day. For example, multiple employees may use the same pallet jack or cart within the span of a few hours. Unfortunately, recent data shows that SARS-CoV-2 can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days if not addressed.
Any shared equipment or work surfaces should be regularly cleaned with steam or chemicals between shifts to prevent the potential spread of microorganisms. This cleaning can also be supplemented by providing employees with alcohol wipes to clean tools and surfaces before and after they use them. Sanitizing wipes should also be provided near shared microwaves, vending machines, coffee pots, breakroom tables, and any other shared spaces.
2. Hand washing and sanitation
Simple handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of viruses and bacteria. The CDC recommends handwashing for at least 20 seconds to prevent coronavirus transmission.
Warehouse operators should take steps to make sure appropriate handwashing access is available to all employees. Make all sinks available for handwashing and make sure they are appropriately stocked with soap. If the facility lacks convenient access to sinks, additional handwashing stations can be purchased or rented. As a last resort, hand sanitizer solutions with at least 60% alcohol content can be placed strategically throughout the facility.
Masks that cover the nose and mouth have proven effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19. All warehouses and fulfillment centers should implement a mandatory mask requirement to help prevent the transmission of the virus within the facility by workers who may infected but asymptomatic.
While N95 masks are the most effective, even simple surgical masks or cloth face coverings can help to prevent the spread of microorganisms. SARS-CoV-2 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets that leave the mouth and nose when someone coughs, sneezes, laughs, or speaks. Without a mask barrier to stop them, the smallest respiratory droplets—known as aerosols—can stay in the air for several hours.
Of note, a recent study at Duke University showed that certain types of neck gaiters may actually increase the risk of aerosolizing respiratory droplets, so facility managers may want to prevent employees from using this type of mask.
4. Social distancing
By this point, most facilities have some sort of social distancing policy in place. Simple social distancing measures include:
- Offsetting start and end times to avoid bottlenecks at facility entrances and exits.
- Designating specific doors as entrance-only and exit-only.
- Eliminating time clocks and sign-in sheets in favor of digital time tracking via smart phones.
- Staggering lunch and break times to avoid gatherings.
- Adding barriers or cubicle walls between workstations.
5. Access control
Even the most stringent social distancing measures won’t be effective if outside drivers, vendors, or customers can walk into the facility at any given moment. Warehouses and fulfillment centers should create separate waiting areas—including restrooms—for visiting drivers to use. DCs and warehouses should also implement contactless driver check-in and check-out processes to limit physical employee access to outside visitors.
For the time being, it’s also best that vendor and customer visits are extremely limited or banned altogether.
About Phoenix Logistics
Between Phoenix Logistics and our affiliate Phoenix Investors, we maintain a comprehensive and continuously expanding portfolio of industrial real estate that currently spans 21 states. We’re prepared to help you meet your increased demand with a new warehouse or distribution center staffed by our knowledgeable employees and optimized using our advanced warehouse management system. We’ve taken comprehensive steps to ensure the safest operation possible at all of our warehouse facilities.
For more information on our services and capabilities, please visit phoenix3pl.com.