How to Prepare Your Warehouse for a Second Wave of COVID-19
Warehouses and fulfillment centers should take these precautions to mitigate COVID-19 risks, keep the workforce safe, and avoid costly downtime.
Most warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) stayed open as essential businesses when COVID-19 restrictions were placed across the United States. Facilities that failed to implement appropriate preventative measures early went through a series of hurried closings, cleanings, and re-openings to combat COVID-19 outbreaks.
The United States continues to set new records for the number of active cases of the virus, suggesting a new wave is coming—if it isn't already here. This second wave coincides with the traditional flu season, which may cause as-of-yet unknown complications.
Warehouses and fulfillment centers must take precautions to mitigate the risks posed by coronavirus, influenza, and other contagious respiratory diseases. Here are some tips to keep your workforce safe and avoid expensive downtime.
1. Shared surfaces. Warehouse workers often touch the same shared equipment and surfaces, such as pallet jacks or carts. Recent data shows that SARS-CoV-2 can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, so shared surfaces must be regularly cleaned with steam or chemicals between shifts. Supplement more thorough cleaning by providing employees with alcohol wipes to clean tools before and after use. Sanitizing wipes should also be provided in break areas.
2. Handwashing 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 provide handwashing access to all employees by making all sinks available for handwashing, keeping soap stocked, and renting or buying additional handwashing stations if needed. Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol content should be placed throughout the facility.
3. 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 be infected but asymptomatic.
N95 masks are best, but simple surgical masks or cloth coverings help to prevent viral spread. COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, laughs, or speaks. Without a barrier to stop them, the smallest respiratory droplets may aerosolize and stay in the air for hours. A recent study at Duke University showed that neck gaiters may actually increase the risk of aerosolizing respiratory droplets, so it's prudent to prevent employees from using this type of covering.
4. Social distancing. Most facilities have some sort of social distancing policy in place. Simple measures include:
- Offsetting start and end times to avoid bottlenecks
- Designating specific doors for entering and exiting
- Eliminating time clocks in favor of digital time tracking via smart phones
- Staggering lunch and break times to avoid gatherings
- Adding plexiglass barriers between workstations
5. Access control. Even the most stringent social distancing measures won't be effective if outside drivers, vendors, or customers freely walk into the facility. Create separate waiting areas with restrooms for visiting drivers and implement contactless driver check-in/check-out processes to limit physical employee exposure to outside visitors. It's also best to limit or ban vendor and customer visits.