Protect your supply chains with a WH or DC risk plan

Roger OakdenLogistics Management, Procurement, Supply Chains & Supply Networks

Trucks at a distribution centre

Planning for a ‘known unknown’

Your facilities are at risk of exposing people to the COVID-19 virus, resulting in the shutdown of a warehouse (WH) or distribution centre (DC). Rather than just responding when the event happens, develop your WH/DC risk management plan, to reduce the likelihood of a disruptive event happening and if it does, lessen the consequences.

Factors to consider were noted by Matt Wragg, Chair of the Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Australia Ltd (SCLAA) in the Association’s recent newsletter. He reminded supply chain professionals that their organisation has a duty of care towards employees and others who may frequent a WH/DC.

Facility Risk Plan

To build a risk plan requires the management team to develop scenarios around the impacts and effects of the virus on operations.  To enable this exercise requires access to your organisation’s Supply Network Map for information about:

  • Suppliers’ locations (at least tiers 1 and 2) and upstream services suppliers
  • Dependencies of supplying organisations (including by 3PLs) on your supply chains
  • Your organisation’s dependency on particular suppliers

This information highlights external vulnerabilities for your facility and identifies actions to reduce the risks. Without this base information, it is difficult to estimate the likelihood of an occurrence and the likely impacts from a disruption.

The plan will identify where contingency planning (‘if-then’) is required for critical parts of the facility and its operations. Contingency plans are also required for critical customers and suppliers, transport services and supply chain IT and communications services.

People risk reduction

Consider work practices for their applicability in special circumstances and the human resourcing (HR) responses for when the availability of personnel are constrained:

  • arrangements for staff that are able to work remotely, including those associated with the warehouse management system (WMS), transport management system (TMS) and associated IT applications
  • staggered working hours
  • start and finish times

Depending on the number of people employed per shift, divide the workforce into separate groups (with their forklifts and other equipment) that are able to undertake the full range of duties required. If an employee (or contractor or casual) shows symptoms of the virus, their group can be isolated and sent home. However, the other groups can continue to unload inbound vehicles and put-away in their operational areas. Outbound deliveries would be suspended until the contaminated area is disinfected

To enable an orderly evacuation, identify the areas where people will be working at particular times. Note the expected time for an evacuation from different areas of the facility. This will have the same approach as a fire drill, including checking that all people from a group have reached the evacuation assembly area.

An Emergency Centre for each facility is required, which can be activated with the action plan, containing:

  • roles and responsibilities of functional representatives
  • protocols for communications and decision making and
  • emergency action plans that involve customers and suppliers

Action from the Facility Risk Plan

Publish a brief summary of the risk plan, clearly identifying the roles and responsibilities of people. The supervisors must be briefed, so they are able to explain the plan to their work teams.

Also, all those which ‘need to know’ must be notified about what may happen if the virus is detected in the facility. It includes suppliers, inbound freight services, IT service providers and customers – other WH & DCs, retail outlets and residential consumers.

Operations risk reduction

The health challenge for management is the time this virus can survive outside a host person, on surfaces typically found in a WH/DC. Two recent studies, from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and another reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, studied a range of materials. They found that the virus remained active on hard materials, such as plastic, glass, aluminium and stainless steel, for between three and four days (76 – 96 hours). On absorbent materials, such as cardboard and paper, it is active for about 24 hours.

For prevention, the studies advise that all surfaces contacted by people must be disinfected; at least at the end of each shift. People are to regularly wash their hands with soap, or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser as a backup.

Hygiene protocol

  • Arrange for disinfectant and application cloths to be available for forklift and truck drivers. This is to wipe the steering wheel, gear stick and all parts on the vehicle that drivers (and others) may touch
  • Sufficient wash basins, soap and disposable hand towels are required throughout the facility. Do not use electric hand dryers unless they have HEPA-filters – ordinary hand dryers can blow bacteria around a toilet area
  • One toilet block, preferably away from the main working areas, is to be closed and held in reserve for when another toilet area must be quarantined for deep cleaning

Site access

For control of people movements, restrict entry and exit to one security location. This will be the ‘clean area’ for the site, so that steps taken to reduce risk are within an area that can be easily disinfected.

All persons passing through the ‘clean area’ must have their facial temperature measured and wash their hands. To undertake these requirements requires:

  • Staggered start times for employees, contactors and casuals
  • Sufficient hand washing basins to be available over the staggered start period. The WHO recommends allowing 20 seconds per person for a soap and warm water wash
  • A screening point at which to take facial temperatures. Digital forehead thermometers should give an accurate temperature within 2 seconds. A high temperature is considered as 38.0° C (100.4° F) or higher

Follow normal security protocols and log all people coming on-site with their contact details, in case a follow-up is required by health officials. Visitors to the site must be made aware of the virus security protocols and evacuation procedure. To reduce the potential contamination of materials, do not allow bags of any type to be taken past the ‘clean area’ and into the facility.

Sufficient security personnel and equipment are required to ensure that people remain in their designated work areas and are able to exit the facility in an orderly manner if an evacuation is required.

Abnormal times require responses that maximise the health and safety of all people on-site and Learn About Logistics hopes the approach of this blogpost will assist.

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About the Author

Roger Oakden

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With my background as a practitioner, consultant and educator, I am uniquely qualified to provide practical learning in supply chains and logistics. I have co-authored a book on these subjects, published by McGraw-Hill. As the program Manager at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, I developed and presented the largest supply chain post-graduate program in the Asia Pacific region, with centres in Melbourne, Singapore and Hong Kong. Read More...