Overcoming Covid-19 challenges

by Norm Kramer
Norm Kramer is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional
with over 25 years of experience. Norm
provides expert,
in-depth health &
safety consulting
services for WSPS as
a Warehouse Specialist
in the GTA region.

How effective are the controls you have in place to manage Covid-19? Are there better ways to ensure the health and safety of your employees? With Ontario businesses up and running or in the process of starting back up, it’s a good time to find out.

Designated as “essential”, many warehouses and distribution centres have been operating at full capacity throughout the pandemic. They have kept the supply chain moving and ensured store shelves remained well stocked with food and necessary supplies.

These employers have been facing challenges they have never encountered before and many are responding with practical and creative solutions.

Over the past couple of months, I spoke to several warehouse and safety managers about what their businesses are doing to protect workers from Covid-19. They had some great advice. Most of their suggestions can be applied at any workplace or at the very least, can provide inspiration for improvement.

Minimize contact among employees

1. Limit the number of workers per shift. Staggering shifts and break times by even half an hour can help reduce congestion in the cafeteria and at entrances and exits. Also, consider having the same group of employees work the same shifts. By doing so, some warehouses have effectively minimized the degree of contact employees have with each other.

2. Eliminate in-person meetings. This should apply even when you want to hold a meeting for staff who are working onsite at the same time. Many businesses are now meeting virtually, using technology such as digital video platforms and telephone conference calls.

3. Reduce the use of temporary workers. Reducing the number, or employing the same workers on an ongoing basis can make a difference. Also, remember to include both temporary and fulltime workers in the daily Covid-19 health screening program.

4. Reduce the number of non-essential visitors. Some facilities have installed barriers to protect staff from visitors who must come inside. They have also blocked visitors’ access to the rest of workplace and installed separate comfort stations for visitors.

5. Use contactless delivery. This requires that delivery drivers leave items on the doorstep. Transactions are handled electronically. Drivers that enter the facility remain in their cab. Many operators have now switched to paperless documentation and avoid sharing electronic equipment such as scanners and eSignature devices.

6. Rearrange workstations to provide a greater distance between employees. One facility shut down every other pack station to permit more space between workers (in this case, three metres). Another removed gravity conveyors to create more space. In the cafeteria, they removed some tables and placed the remaining tables two metres apart. At one DC, they created three separate cafeterias in the warehouse. If you’re considering doing something like this, remember to guard the perimeters to protect workers from mobile equipment.

Some facilities have converted meeting rooms or other rarely used spaces for other purposes, such as an additional break room or locker room. Conducting meetings outdoors has also facilitated physical distancing and access to fresh air.

7. Implement one-way only traffic, if possible, to protect mobile equipment operators and pedestrians from contact with others. Many warehouses have installed plexiglass barriers on carts to ensure physical separation. Installing coat dividers or providing personal lockers in change rooms have helped minimize contact between different employees’ clothing.

8. Provide employees with a wearable device that provides a warning, such as a vibration, if another worker gets too close. This can make it simpler to track who the wearer has had contact with.

9. Increase ventilation at the facility. Some centres have also introduced touchless options for toilets, faucets and paper towel dispensers to reduce exposure to commonly touched surfaces.

10. Use a gateway scanner at the entrance. A scanner can take the temperature of 20 or more people per minute. Alternatively, use infrared thermometers to quickly scan foreheads or establish a system where employees have to take their own temperatures before coming to work.

While all of these practices can be effective, I recommend that a good practice is to simply ask your workers for guidance.
They perform the tasks on a day-to-day basis and usually have a lot of valuable input regarding hazards and what can be done to make the workplace safer. You might be surprised by the great ideas they have for your company’s unique situation.