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Warehouse safety during COVID-19: 3 key strategies to look for when selecting a fulfillment partner

Collage of images: aerial view of warehouse aisle, a person wearing headphones and facemask, closeup of coronavirus, forklift moving product in a warehouse, person cleaning shelves wearing a hazmat suit and face shield.

As restrictions on in-store retailing increased due to the pandemic, the ecommerce sector became a vital channel for consumers to meet their needs during this challenging time. With 3PLs playing a key role in keeping supply chains moving, worker safety should be a top priority to prevent outbreaks from taking place at warehousing facilities.

In this blog, we’re going to discuss key health and safety practices that merchants should be looking for in prospective fulfillment partners – and the damaging consequences that these procedures help avoid.

Why employee health and safety matters

Pandemic or no pandemic, employee health and safety should always be a top priority for 3PLs. Why? Because multiple surveys have demonstrated that improved employee health results in higher productivity. When workers feel engaged and supported by their workplace, they’re far more likely to work effectively and have higher rates of job satisfaction. 

Moreover, a study by the National Safety Council (NSC) found a significant correlation between high workplace safety standards and reported customer satisfaction. By having robust health and safety systems in place, fulfillment partners that can promote a safer, more inclusive workplace culture that better aligns with consumer priorities.

The cost of COVID-19

Adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines isn’t just about minimizing the risk of illness. While 3PL partners putting strong health and safety procedures in place could mean temporary disruptions, having them take no action at all could be significantly costlier for your business:

Shipments and deliveries being delayed

No matter the scale of your fulfillment provider, there’s bound to be interference with fulfillment and shipping schedules if warehouse workers are sick or needing to self-isolate.

Businesses partner with ecommerce order fulfillment companies because they’re able to manage fulfillment more efficiently than they can achieve on their own. If this is hampered by an outbreak, this means that your business is going to have to deal with some very unhappy customers – especially as we get closer to the holiday season.

By choosing a fulfillment provider with a well-crafted COVID-19 response, you’re far better placed to weather any pandemic-related challenges.

Damage to the brand reputation

Companies who’ve experienced COVID-19 outbreaks have had to weather some harsh scrutiny, and this isn’t good for PR. Developing a reputation as someone who doesn’t ensure employee safety throughout their supply chain doesn’t just affect your ability to attract workers – but also the ability to attract and retain customers.

Why? Because Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has never mattered more. According to Aflac’s latest survey, 62% of consumers say that ‘employee health and safety’ should be a top operational priority for businesses and their partners. This makes robust safety procedures essential to ensuring long-term growth and success.

A lack of preparation for peak season

The holidays are fast approaching, and the rapid growth of ecommerce is set to make the 2020 season even more challenging for fulfillment providers. With higher parcel volumes and tighter lead times, many providers are already close to maxing out their capabilities before the season gets started – which gives merchants much less leeway than normal.

It’s safe to say that logistics partners are a critical piece of infrastructure in the seasonal retail economy. And with higher numbers of seasonal staff working on the warehouse floor during this time, it’s even more important that measures are in place at your provider to mitigate risk as much as possible.

3 key strategies to look for in a fulfillment provider

If you’re looking to partner with a new ecommerce order fulfillment partner during the pandemic, it’s important to be aware of current safety guidelines and how rigorously they are followed by both staff and managers. Here are 3 areas of focus to help you evaluate potential fulfillment partners:

Protocols for managing sick workers

If any employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, it’s critical that a fulfillment partner can work effectively to limit its spread. This means having a robust system in place which involves the following:

  • Immediately isolating sick employees.
  • Alerting workers who may have had contact with those infected.
  • Arranging COVID-19 testing.
  • Giving regular updates on the situation to staff, contractors, and customers.
  • Exercising a ‘return to work’ ‘protocol. 
  • Plans for working with a reduced workforce.

When a fulfillment provider has a step-by-step strategy in place, you can have far more confidence in their ability to continue managing orders and deliveries.

Detailed self-screening protocols

Self-screening processes help give direction to staff and visitors if they think they might have been exposed to COVID-19. This is usually done as a series of questions, such as:

  • If they have been exposed to anyone who has tested positive in the past 14 days.
  • If they have recently taken a COVID-19 test.
  • If they have any symptoms.
  • If they have recently travelled interstate or abroad.

Having people self-screen regularly allows fulfillment providers to identify potential cases before they can cause an outbreak, which helps to safeguard business activities from disruption.

Regular deep-cleaning and disinfection of warehouse facilitie

There should always be a deep-clean protocol in place in the event of a COVID-19 diagnosis to prevent transmission via surfaces or equipment. But even if a fulfillment provider has never had a visitor or staff member test positive, it’s vital that they are still regularly disinfecting high-touch areas around the warehouse – especially in places where it’s difficult to socially distance. 

The former Port Logistics Group has documented its comprehensive health and safety guidelines within the Safework Playbook: An interactive guide for COVID-19 pandemic return to work which is circulated amongst staff and management throughout its facilities. This continues to be updated as the pandemic progresses, ensuring that practices are always based on the latest advice to keep operations as safe as possible.

Regardless of the scale of your fulfillment needs, businesses need to have a clear sense of how prospective fulfillment partners are responding to the risks presented by the pandemic. By aligning yourself with the right ecommerce order fulfillment partner who can manage worker health effectively, you’re much better able to protect your operation from the risks presented by COVID-19.

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