Warehouse Safety in a COVID-19 World: A Conversation with Julie Copeland of Arbill Industries, Inc.

Two workers in warehouse wearing face masks and safety gearThe COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event. The rapid spread of both the coronavirus and information about the outbreak has been made possible by the inner workings of the global economy. As a result, the spread of sickness, fear, and misinformation has never been faster. It’s not all bad — the level of access that we now have also allows us to learn quickly from one another and avoid repeating mistakes that have already been addressed by our peers.

One of our clients, Arbill Industries, Inc., specializes in workplace safety by providing programs, products, technology, and managed services to its clients. We discussed their approach to securing their warehouse and work environment with Julie Copeland, CEO. She candidly shared her feedback on the most effective measures they currently have in place, which safety products are highest in demand, and her advice to other businesses who need to protect their workforce and clients from the spread of the virus.

Q: What protocols have you put in place to protect your warehouse workers from COVID-19?

A: We have implemented our emergency procedures for infection control for both our warehouse and customer service staff. All non-essential employees were changed to a work-from-home status in March and our customer service and support systems were adapted for this so we could continue to support our customers’ needs while protecting our employees.

As for our warehouse employees and functions, we are considered an essential business. To ensure that our product line and stock remained available, we have put safeguards in place to ensure that neither their safety nor health was impacted or at risk while performing tasks and shipping. We increased our protective equipment protocols such as nitrile gloves and N95 masks. We also developed exposure minimization protocols such as hand sanitation and hygiene regimes, hydration stations, and additional breaks to ensure their immunities and health were a focus.

We put into place distancing measures in the shipping area to ensure truck drivers and warehouse employees remained separated to minimize the spread. Additional sanitation measures were used in areas at risk, such as restrooms, shipping offices where outside individuals may come in, doorknobs and handles, etc. We have also put measures in place to minimize exposure of our product before shipping for the safety of our customers and transport partners. We assist clients with these same protocols and infection control measures every day.

Q: Which of these do you believe to be the most effective, and why?

A: We feel all of these measures are important to do our part to minimize the spread while ensuring we continue the supply of our product to our customers and keep the valuable PPE and equipment supplies going during this time. The most effective measures are proper hygiene and sanitation steps, as well as hydration and monitoring measures of employees to ensure their health and safety — as well as their families and our customers — are in check.

Q: Which items have been selling more quickly since the threat escalated to a pandemic?

A: We’ve seen increased demand for:

  • N95 masks
  • Disposable clothing
  • Face shields and eyewear
  • Thin-walled gloves
  • Unsupported gloves
  • Sanitizer, disinfectant, and microbe shield

Q: What advice would you offer to those operating essential businesses receiving and sending shipments?

A: Our advice is to use whatever precautions you can to keep your employees safe while remaining in an operational capacity. Conduct a risk assessment of your facility and identify key areas where employees and facilities may be at risk for exposure. Identify which employees are essential to the operation, and then also identify which essential employees may be at an increased risk for infection such as interaction with outside vendors, drivers, etc. For those who are at an increased risk, put into place additional protective measures such as enhanced education and screening, additional hygiene and hydration breaks, and additional PPE.

Assess your janitorial and custodial cleaning services and ensure they understand and are following CDC guidelines and increase cleaning measures in high-risk areas, such as shipping and receiving offices, reception, breakrooms, bathrooms, door handles, doorknobs, and any areas at risk. Ensure floor mats are regularly cleaned or changed out. These steps can minimize the spread of possible contamination.

Q: Do you have a general statement that you would like to share?

A: While the current environment with the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious, and immediate concern, everyone can take the appropriate precautions to minimize the risk in the short and long term. Businesses must also consider long-term precautions and measures to protect their operations and employees’ well-being. Arbill offers several environmental, health, and safety equipment and services for all hazards and risks that follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as well as all regulatory agencies for the current COVID-19 pandemic. Our EHS Specialists can provide employee training and information on signs & symptoms, risk of exposure and infection control, infection control protocols and procedures for management as well as facility and PPE assessments and audits to identify your risk and means of protection. Steps taken now can protect your employee’s safety and health and ensure long-term protection for your company.

In summary

Our biggest takeaway from this conversation was that while social distancing, sanitizing, protective gear, and safety protocols are extremely important, we also need to be mindful of our teams’ physical and mental health. A worried, exhausted, and dehydrated team member is more likely to succumb to sickness than a comfortable, well-rested, and well-hydrated one. Prevention is critical, byt we also need to be mindful of the last line of defense: the human immune system. Stay safe, be mindful, and avoid any unnecessary risks.