Last updated: Warehouses and COVID-19: Safety versus supply

Warehouses and COVID-19: Safety versus supply


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Companies are changing their operations on the fly to ensure their warehouses keep up with demand for groceries and other essential supplies while prioritizing health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many businesses are shuttered or keep their workers at home, other companies are running in overdrive with warehouse workers laboring behind the scenes to fulfill intense demand for food, cleaning supplies, and other items.

Some companies appear to be more successful at warehouse safety than others. Here’s a quick look at what’s going on right now.

Warehouses during the COVID-19 crisis

The CEO of a California-based produce bag factory moved fast to implement COVID-19 measures to protect his 250 workers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Emerald Packaging CEO Kevin Kelly and his team created a safety system that includes staggered lunch breaks, a new sanitizing protocol, outdoor meetings, and social distancing rules.

Amazon warehouse safety scrutinized

Online giant Amazon, which has seen a tremendous surge in demand, says it’s implemented many changes in its fulfillment centers to ensure health and safety. Last week, Amazon suspended shipments of non-essentials to its warehouses in an effort to address shortages as a result of the pandemic.

The company said it’s increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning at all sites, has a process for deep cleaning facilities when an employee tests positive for COVID-19, and made changes so fulfillment center workers can maintain a safe distance from each other.

However, Amazon workers tell a different story, according to published reports.

Workers at multiple Amazon fulfillment centers in the US say the company isn’t doing enough to protect them while forcing them to keep up with extreme productivity quotas, according to Fast Company.

Amazon workers have complained of shortages of cleaning supplies and having to work too closely together. Some are terrified to work during the pandemic.

At least 11 Amazon warehouses have workers that have tested positive for the coronoavirus. The company temporarily closed some facilities, but hasn’t done any mass closures – though it looks as if they could be forced to adapt as employees move to picket lines in the wake of COVID-19.

At Costco, warehouse workers are complaining that the big-box retailer isn’t doing enough to protect them in a high-risk environment, according to BuzzFeed News.

Sysco shifts in wake of pandemic

Foodservice distribution giant Sysco is expanding its focus on the grocery store industry in order to help keep shelves stocked during the crisis, Sysco CEO and President Kevin Hourican wrote in a note to shareholders.

“Sysco’s worldwide scale and network of warehouses and transport positions us in a place to strengthen the retail food supply at this critical time,” he said.

Approximately two-thirds of Sysco’s business are restaurants, which have been hard hit by the pandemic crisis. The company continues to support them as they operate take-out and delivery options, but is increasing its focus on the grocery store industry. According to FOX Business, the company is considering lending its employees to its retail grocery clients in order to keep shelves stocked.

The challenges wholesale distributors are facing vary depending on subsegment, said Magnus Meier, Global VP, Wholesale Distribution Business Unit, SAP.

“Overall, it is now key to balance empathy for their employees and families with ensuring that operations can be maintained for the critical parts of their business, while also tightly managing cash tied up in their inventory of essential and non-essential items.”

John Hopkins has a dashboard tracking global cases of COVID-19. You can find it HERE.

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