A worker in an Amazon warehouse in Queens, New York, this week tested positive for coronavirus, prompting the closure of the facility.
This is the last thing that you want happening in your warehouse—the disruption and fallout could be devastating.
It would mean deep-cleaning the entire warehouse and possibly ordering fellow workers to self-isolate for a period—all of which would come at enormous cost to your supply chain.
The 7 warehouse processes and how to safeguard them
Let’s examine each of the seven warehouse processes in turn and outline measures that can be implemented at each stage to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Scientists are still uncertain if the coronavirus can spread via packages, especially those shipped over a period of days. However, a study found that the new Coronavirus was detectable for up to 24 hours on cardboard and for two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Despite this, the US Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) says that the virus is not typically transmitted through touching a surface. Although it offers no advice on disinfecting parcels, it stresses the need to wash hands frequently and maintain physical distancing.
Practical safeguards: Ensure that all workers use hand sanitisers and wear gloves, which should be readily available, and stress the importance of physical distancing. Workers should not touch their faces after handling a package and should throw away the gloves and wash their hands afterwards.
All equipment used in the put-away process, be it the controls of lift trucks and pallet jacks, scanners, or even pens used for manual entries, should be regarded as vulnerable.
Practical safeguards: Continually disinfect all surfaces. The CDC says that household bleach, solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, and household disinfectants recommended by the authorities in your country should be effective. Any package handling should be carried out as per #1 above.
Picking is very resource-intensive and can involve up to 60 percent of warehouse staff. According to the CDC, the virus is mainly spread person-to-person—especially through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs and sneezes.
Practical safeguards: It is essential that strict rules of hygiene and physical distancing—two metres apart— are maintained in this section. Workers should use sanitisers and wash their hands frequently. Equipment should be disinfected before and after every use.
Packing is perhaps the most important section of the warehouse when it comes to the need to enforce the highest hygienic standards since containers need to be cleaned and prepared for packing. Parcels need to be moved, stacked, and packed.
Practical safeguards: Parcel handling should be conducted as per #1 above, and containers should be deep cleaned with disinfectants. Staff should regularly use sanitisers and wash their hands.
This job is usually carried out by a small team focused on data entry, telephone communication, and documentation.
Practical safeguards: Personnel should maintain physical distancing, continually disinfect all equipment, and observe the strict hygiene protocols. If your company is engaged in last-mile delivery of packages packed in plastic bags or envelopes, it may make sense to spray and wipe each package with disinfectant before loading them into delivery vehicles.
Goods being returned by customers should be handled especially carefully on arrival at warehouses, since they may have been touched by many sets of hands.
Practical safeguards: Those handling returned goods should wear gloves and if necessary disinfect the item before sending it back to packing. They should throw away the gloves and then thoroughly wash their hands.
Kitting and bundling take up resources and if you are trying to minimise the number of staff members needed in the warehouse day by day, this is one area where you could conceivably cut back.
Practical safeguards: Make sure those involved in the value-added process follow the hygiene protocols outlined above. Disinfect the bundled and kitted items if delivery is imminent.
Health workers stress the importance of maintaining routine procedures for keeping business premises clean and virus free. This requires schedules, monitoring, incentives, and sufficient supplies.
Most important: regularly monitor the health of your workers
If a warehouse worker shows symptoms either of a high temperate and/or a cough, medical advice is that they should stay at home for at least seven days.
A current best practice is to check the temperature of each employee with a non-contact digital thermometer before allowing him/her to set foot in the warehouse.
Further temperature checks before employees leave work are also advisable. Anyone whose temperature indicates a fever should be sent home immediately and instructed to follow relevant sick-leave protocols.
If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, it is best to check with your local health authorities about the best way to deal with the situation.
Meanwhile, if it still at all possible in this time of lockdowns and quarantines, please try to keep your warehouses open and your supply chain functioning—But be sure to follow the hygiene protocols to the letter!