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Promoting Warehouse Worker Safety Post-COVID-19

Jason Nowak | 23 June 2020

Make warehouses and distribution centers safer during a pandemic, protect the most important link in the supply chain… your employees. 

During this global coronavirus pandemic, people are concerned with protecting themselves and their families from contracting and spreading the disease; many go to extraordinary measures to ensure everyone they care about stays healthy.  For employers, this protective nature extends to the employees who are the foundation of their business too.  These business leaders understand that ensuring employees stay healthy, even if it’s at a significant cost for their business, is their top priority.  This may even mean closing doors temporarily to slow the spread of the virus by limiting interactions between people.  After leaders are satisfied that they have done everything they can to protect employees, their thoughts will inevitably turn to protecting their customers, and fulfilling their commitments to the supply chain if possible.

When we move in to the post-COVID-19 pandemic world, some months in the future, will industries return to “business as usual” and return everything to the way it was prior to the pandemic of 2019 and 2020?   Or, will the tables at restaurants be a little farther apart? Will sports stadiums have fewer seats? Will the air travel and cruise ship industries be forever altered?  Will the global supply chain and the distribution centers that are foundational to our ever-growing dependence on e-commerce delivery be as reliant on human labor as they are today, or for the protection of the employees and customers, is it time to look at everything differently?

Automation & Social Distancing

For distribution centers, it’s possible to implement social distancing measures on an industrial level by utilizing technologies that can allow only a few employees, connected only by automation, to do what just a couple years ago might have taken dozens or even hundreds of people to do while working in close proximity with each other. 

By merging game-changing technologies in goods-to-person like Perfect Pick or AutoStore, which utilize robotics to deliver goods to people, with a unit sorter like t-Sort by Tompkins, which uses automated carts to sort products into their assigned orders, one person can pick and sort up to 1000 lines an hour.  While another person, on the other side of the building, receives the presorted orders and runs them through a Packsize on-demand, right-sized packaging machine, which allows one person to pack 900-1000 cases an hour.  Ideas like this can allow employees to remain at a safe distance from each other while producing more shipments per person than we ever thought possible until recently.

Proper Policy & Procedure 

OSHA’s Fact sheet on protecting workers during a pandemic says that “Workers who believe that their employer provides a safe and healthy workplace are more likely to report for work during a pandemic.”  So, it’s important to ensure procedures are in place to protect workers, as well as training employees about how viruses spread in an effort to minimize the chances of exposure.  Some ideas for employers and workers to consider when it’s impossible to work from home are:

  • Providing adequate hand washing facilities, hand sanitizing stations, and facial tissues for employees
  • Enhanced ventilation and air exchange/filtration measures to ensure employees are breathing clean, safe air while doing their jobs
  • Staggering break/lunch periods and limiting the number of people allowed to use break room facilities at any one time and encourage proper social distancing while using the facility
  • Schedule non-overlapping shift changes to minimize employee interactions
  • Automatic fever monitoring for employees to safeguard against employees working while sick
  • Proper PPE – factories provide ear plugs, safety glasses, gloves, and protective clothing to employees, consider providing personal protective equipment to safeguard against germs and viruses
  • When vaccines are available, employers should consider having on-site clinics available for employees to be vaccinated, this has been working well for influenza for years
  • Installing physical barriers like plastic sheeting which acts as a sneeze guard between work areas.
  • As with any new procedure or policy, communication is key; teach employees how to protect themselves, help them understand the risks, and the role they play in reducing the spread of the disease to themselves, their loved ones, and coworkers

With today’s automation technologies, enhanced communication, and simple preventative measures, it is possible to reduce the risk to your employees, your customers, and your company from the next global pandemic.

Author: Jason Nowak

Jason is a Bastian Solutions Senior Consultant based out of St. Louis, Missouri.  He has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Missouri S&T and an MBA from St. Louis University.  Jason has been providing manufacturing and distribution design and integration leadership across various industries for Bastian Solutions’ clients for over 15 years, helping clients develop strategic initiatives and lead successful system implementations.    


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