Materials Handling COVID-19

Reducing COVID-19 Risks in Materials Handling with Technology

May 10, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic may seem like it’s coming under control in the United States, but challenges reaching herd immunity and a growing number of variants around the world suggest that businesses should prepare for the long haul by adopting best practices for health and hygiene at every level—including warehouses and materials handling.

“Covid-19 will certainly have latent effects on organizational resilience throughout 2021, directly and indirectly shifting the way organizations do business,” Jim Yarbrough, global intelligence program manager at BSI said in a statement about a new report from the London-based standards and supply chain intelligence firm.

Let’s take a look at COVID-19 risks in materials handling, CDC recommendations for warehouses, and how telematics can help eliminate guesswork, provide accountability and create a new system of checks and balances for measurable results.

The COVID-19 pandemic could last longer than many appreciate, which means businesses should prepare for the long haul with health and hygiene best practices at every level. Click To Tweet

CDC Recommendations for Warehouses

The CDC has issued extensive guidance for workplaces and businesses to help limit COVID-19 risks—including guidance for warehouses. According to the health agency, warehouse workers may be exposed due to close contact with other people, including customers, coworkers, contractors and truck drivers, as well as when touching or handling surfaces.

The organization’s core recommendations include:

  • Follow any existing state or local regulations for warehouses.
  • Appoint an on-site coordinator responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control.
  • Implement flexible sick leave and other supportive policies and practices.
  • Consider daily in-person or virtual health checks of employees on workdays.

If an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, immediately isolate the employee and arrange for private transportation home. Affected employees should self-isolate and immediately contact their healthcare provider. The area where the employee operated should also be closed off and disinfected and other employees should be notified.

The CDC also recommends several other steps:

  • Modify workstations to be six feet apart and not facing each other when possible.
  • Establish physical barriers between workers and/or customers.
  • Close or limit access to areas where employees are likely to congregate.
  • Consider foot traffic in a single direction in narrow or confined areas.
  • Use visual cues to remind workers to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other.
  • Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers in multiple locations.
  • Make sure the workspace is well-ventilated or use HEPA filtration units.

Many cities and states also continue to recommend the use of face coverings indoors as an effective way to prevent the spread of infection. These masks should allow for breathing without restriction while fitting snugly against the side of the face. Many workplaces provide disposable masks on-site while permitting employees to bring their own if desired.

Social Distancing with Telematics

Telematics have opened the door to a wide range of improvements in warehouses and manufacturing facilities. For example, modern solutions can measure worker productivity, detect dangerous driving behavior, and ensure that everyone is where they need to be at any given time. These same technologies can help reduce risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are several ways that telematics can play a role:

  • Direct Messaging: Telematics enable management to set up regular (e.g., timed) or specific (e.g., ad hoc) messages to operators and avoid bringing large groups into a room to implement or roll out new processes or policies. In addition to avoiding large groups, it’s easy to message operators when there are COVID-19 safety issues.
  • Access & Location: Telematics enable companies to limit access to material handling equipment by utilizing keyless access technology which ensures that vehicles will not start without authorized operator credentials. Telematics solutions can also monitor login access with an HID card, keypad or fob, as well as track where employees move within the facility. These capabilities make it much easier to contact trace any potential infections within the facility with 100% accurate chain of custody records.
  • Automated Safety Checklists: Telematics can help facilitate compliance with electronic OSHA safety checklists. These checklists can be customized with health protocols, such as sanitizing equipment after use or before each shift, washing hands on a regular basis, which can be a helpful reminder for employees to adopt healthy habits. If a critical safety issue is checked off the system can lock the vehicle out. Maintenance is automatically notified. This replaces the manual process used in many organizations. It also identifies mechanical issues before they become critical and cause downtime.

When integrated with corporate COVID-19 safety protocols, these technologies can help improve compliance and enforce health and hygiene standards. They can also help with contact tracing and other efforts designed to contain any outbreaks and minimize the number of employees that become sick and the effect on operations.

These same technologies can also help improve safety and productivity:

  • Safety Sensors: Telematics are used on material handling equipment, such as forklifts, within warehouses and manufacturing facilities, to improve safety through the use of impact sensors, speed sensors, weight sensors and other sensors designed to alert management when there are unsafe behaviors. These alerts are also helpful to identify unreported safety incidents.
  • Predictive Maintenance: Telematics can measure vehicle usage for predictive maintenance purposes. Rather than maintaining a vehicle on a calendared basis, the system reports actual usage (motion time), which enables companies to proactively maintain equipment during downtime to ensure that they are performing nominally during high usage times. Safety checklists report maintenance issues before they become major and cause an unexpected vehicle shut down. These capabilities enable companies to proactively maintain their fleet in a cost effective manner while remaining OEM compliant.
  • Productivity Measures: Telematics can provide key insights into actual utilization from a site level, or for multiple sites with the ability to drill down to a specific operator. These measurements can help managers quickly identify problems and address them – keeping within the corporate KPI’s.

PowerFleet provides a wide range of materials handling telematics designed to deliver these benefits and more. In addition to the hardware technologies, the company provides cloud software with a simple dashboard that shows fleet and system status at a glance while enabling managers to automatically receive important alerts and generate detailed reports as needed.

PowerFleet’s forklift fleet management and analytics provide real-time data. This protects workers by remote vehicle monitoring, maintenance alerts and reduction of costs associated with lift truck accidents. Additionally, telematics contribute to proper material handling, creating a more cost-effective and risk-free environment for large-scale production.

The Bottom Line

The COVID-19 pandemic could last for several years amid ongoing herd immunity challenges and a growing number of variants popping up around the world. Businesses should prepare for the long haul by adopting health and hygiene best practices across the organization—including warehouse and materials handling equipment.

In addition to following CDC guidelines, telematics can help improve health and hygiene through access control, safety checklists and direct messaging. These same technologies can help unlock a number of other safety and productivity benefits, which makes them a high return on investment for the long-term as well as a great solution to address the COVID-19 crisis.

For more information, contact us to learn about our telematics solutions and how they can help your business or call our team at  201-678-7725.

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