Norm Kramer is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional. He provides safety consulting services for WSPS as a Warehouse Specialist in the GTA.
What does it taketo successfully manage Covid-19 in warehousing and distribution? I recently moderated a conference session featuring two industry leaders, who talked frankly about their experiences dealing with a wide range of Covid-19-related issues, including messaging, technical innovations, mental health, vaccines, and leadership qualities.
Kimberly Biback is in charge of corporate relations at Sharp Transportation Systems Inc. Headquartered in Cambridge, Ontario, Sharp operates 54 trucks and 132 trailers. Ted Dezsenyi is manager, regional safety and vehicle maintenance, for FedEx Ground. FedEx Ground has 40 facilities across Canada.
Biback and Dezsenyi spoke during the session, “Supply chain shake up – Changing the game through leadership,” at the Partners in Prevention 2021 Health & Safety Virtual Conference.
1Follow the science when it comes to Covid-19 protocols. “The ﬁrst thing we looked at was what the [public health] experts were telling us on how to protect the workplace,” Dezsenyi said. Implementing protocols like social distancing, masks and barriers, sanitization, pre-screening, and more, often meant ﬁnding alternative ways to do things. Examples include switching to virtual training, staggering start times, using contactless delivery, and ensuring more space between workers on docks, or while sorting materials.
Biback emphasized the importance of implementing social distancing early on. “As a pharmaceutical carrier we’ve always practiced sanitation, but we hyped up the process.” For instance, Sharp provided PPE, including gloves and masks to drivers, and simple tips, such as not sharing pens when in a hot zone.
2 Provide consistent messaging. Early and effective communication was critical, said Biback. “We let our drivers and our teams know and understand what the conditions and the variables were, as we knew at that time.” An important part of Sharp’s messaging has been for employees to take care of themselves and use the protocols to stay safe.
“It started with getting rid of the fears,” said Dezsenyi. “The messaging we chose was about putting your faith in the health specialists.” The messaging and protocols together, “created that calming feeling so employees coming into the workplace knew they were being protected”.
3 Make use of new technologies. Sharp engaged a data tracking service for information on the pandemic’s ability to spread through airborne pathogens. “The data allowed us to implement protocols both at the facility and also within our trucks and trailers.”
FedEx Ground placed thermal imaging cameras at entrances. They set off an alarm if an employee’s or visitor’s temperature hit the threshold of 37°C. This initiative, especially when combined with the contact tracing the company was also doing, proved highly successful, Dezsenyi said.
4 Take care of employees’ mental health.Stress and anxiety are having a huge impact on employees, especially essential workers. “The simplest way to support somebody is to let them know you understand and you’re still there,” Biback said. At Sharp, this translated into frequent check-ins, texts, messages and phone calls, as well as offering employee assistance programs. FedEx has taken a similar approach, Dezsenyi noted.
5 Encourage employees to get the vaccine.At Sharp, this means “giving people the information and education they need to make a decision that will improve their lives and hopefully save catastrophic outcomes,” Biback said. In addition to education, FedEx Ground is working with public health ofﬁcials to offer vaccinations at some locations.
6 Be a strong, empathetic, and compassionate leader. “Choose candour over charisma and let your teams know where they stand in the situation and what’s within their control,” advised Biback. “What is the corporate vision and how are we going to get through these uncertain times together?”
We may be starting to transition out of the pandemic – ﬁnally – but these insights can have a long life going forward. Here’s a quick summary.
Follow the experts. Scientists, health and safety professionals, logistics specialists all have solutions to offer.
Communicate clearlyand often so that people understand what’s happening, what their role is, what you expect of them, and how you will help them succeed.
Look after your people. The pandemic has been particularly hard on warehouses and distribution centres, and the people who work there. Look after them and they will help you look after your operation.