Warehouses and distribution centers generally have continued their business apace during the COVID-19 pandemic. These facilities have had to comply with state and local requirements associated with the number of workers at a business at any one time, with stay at home orders, and so forth. Some warehouses and distribution centers are attached to what are known as essential businesses. Warehouses and distribution centers are faced with unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include keeping workers and others during the coronavirus pandemic safe. 

Unique Challenges of Warehouses and Distribution Centers

There exists an array of truly unique challenges faced by warehouses and distribution centers during the reopening of businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. These challenges must be recognized and addressed in order for warehouses and distribution centers to be reasonably safe places for people to work.

Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the state of California are in unison in their belief that at the heart of keeping people healthy and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is social distancing or physical distancing. Until an effective vaccine is developed, the most effective strategy to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus is to distance between people. 

For some months, these agencies and other experts asserted that the minimum distance that should be kept between individuals was six feet. More recently, there is a growing consensus among infectious disease experts that the distance really needed to prevent the spread of the virus is more than six feet. Some infectious disease experts now consider a recommended distance between individuals to be even as much as 10 to 13 feet.

The importance of physical distancing, whether it be 6, 10, or 13 feet, illustrates one of the most significant challenges faced in warehouse and distribution center settings. The stark reality is that because of the nature of warehouse and distribution center operations, this level of social distancing generally is impossible. 

The inability to truly effectively keep workers at a suitable physical distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus demands that a warehouse or distribution center “up its game” in five other areas:

  • Facility reconfiguration
  • Management decisions
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Worker responsibility
  • Deep cleaning and sanitization 

Facility Reconfiguration During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As has been alluded to previously, warehouses and distribution centers are not conducive in their design or operation to ensuring proper physical distancing – which is at the heart of protecting against coronavirus infection. Consequently, the reconfiguration of both the design and operation of a warehouse becomes essential. 

Design and operation redesign need to focus on a number of primary objectives that include:

  • Establish barriers between workers when physical distancing is not consistently possible
  • Develop protocols for ways in which workers will utilize warehouse or distribution center space
  • Installation of sanitization stations throughout the facility
  • Redesign of entries and exits into a warehouse of a distribution center
  • Revamp of the manner in which people enter and exit a facility (for example, the elimination of an “old school” timeclock that can impair a steady and spaced flow of workers in and out of a warehouse or distribution center

Management Decisions During the Pandemic

On a related note, keeping warehouses and distribution centers reasonably safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, management decisions also become an issue. Among the key types of considerations that warehouse or distribution center management need to closely bear in mind during the pandemic is the need to reconsider shifts and employee schedules.

Some of the work regarding shifts and employee schedules may have been done for warehouses and distribution centers in some cases. In a good many jurisdictions (states and cities alike), governmental officials may have mandated how many people can be present in the workplace at any one time. Thus, at the start of the management decision-making process, a consideration of restrictions and mandates from governmental authorities is necessary.

Taking employee scheduling a step further, maintaining at least some semblance of proper social distancing can be accomplished by rethinking shifts. For example, a warehouse or distribution center might want to implement a new shift scheme that involves more shifts with fewer workers on them.

Wide Use of Personal Protective Equipment

As a result of the limitations associated with physical distancing in a warehouse or distribution setting, and because of the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, personal protective equipment is vital. At the heart of appropriate and most effective personal protective equipment, or PPE, is a suitable facemask. The bottom line is that a facemask must be worn by warehouse or distribution center workers at all times within the facility.

As an aside, the wise course is for management to provide suitable PPE at no cost to workers. This ensures that proper PPE is worn, that PPE is consistently available, and that workers don’t bear an undue financial hardship in order to appropriately stay safe in the workplace. 

Worker Responsibilities in Warehouses and Distribution Centers During the Pandemic

In addition to the steps that need to be taken by the owners and managers of warehouses and distribution centers, workers at these facilities also have duties and responsibilities of their own when it comes to health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. An overarching worker responsibility is buying into a responsible comprehensive workplace health and safety plan developed and implemented by a warehouse or distribution center. 

If workers don’t buy into a comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan, if they don’t take it seriously, such a strategy will never be fully and effectively implemented. If workers don’t follow the directives contained in a coronavirus safety plan, the health and wellbeing of those that work at the warehouse or distribution center will remain at risk.

Deep Cleaning and Sanitization at Warehouse and Distribution Centers

The unique features associated with warehouses and distribution centers make regular, comprehensive deep cleaning and sanitization vital. These types of services can only truly be undertaken effectively through the professional assistance of a COVID-19 cleaning and sanitization company. 

There are a pair of considerations to bear in mind when it comes to deep cleaning and sanitization in a warehouse or distribution center. First, a warehouse or distribution center needs to have an action plan that calls for proactive steps to be taken to lessen the possibility of coronavirus contamination in the first instance. Second, a warehouse or distribution center is best served having a plan in place through which immediate COVID-19 remediation can occur if coronavirus contamination is suspected.