COVID-19, Safety

Advice for Handling COVID-19 Spread in Supply Chains

Your client put together a COVID-19 plan for minimizing spread within their workforce. But does their plan account for touch points along the supply chain? If not, they could have serious vulnerabilities.

COVID-19 is not your typical risk: it’s invisible, comes with a significant lag-time for identification, and is highly, highly infectious. The scale is far beyond anything anyone could plan for. While your clients will navigate COVID-19 using a series of short-term plans and advice from the CDC, OSHA, and World Health Organization, their most challenging task will be managing those things outside the typical realm of their control: their supply chain.

As a broker, you can help your clients shore up their loss prevention strategy and better preserve their supply chains. Keep reading for some great advice on getting started.

Have Clients Map Out Their Stakeholders

The first task in combating COVID-19 spread in any context is communication. Communication needs to flow in both directions, or in the case of your clients’ supply chains, all directions.

Your clients’ first step is to take their supply chain map and work backward at least several tiers to develop an extended supply chain. Whether it’s COVID-19 or business continuity, clients need to have familiarity with upstream suppliers to prevent surprises both in infections and interruptions.

Second, your clients need a communication plan for their direct suppliers, i.e., those they’ll make physical contact with. The program should outline any advance communications for sharing risks, scheduling, response processes, and demand shifts via phone or email. Your client should also communicate any measures for in-person interaction (described below).

Finally, your clients can use their extended supply chain map and communication plan to mitigate risk. For example, some clients can increase the size of replenishment to reduce the frequency of travel and interaction. 

Clients can take some creative measures to both protect their supply chains generally and avoid accidentally receiving COVID-19 on delivery. So get your clients thinking about the possibilities.

Set Up Safety Measures for Interactions

Interactions between people fulfilling the supply chain are inevitable in most cases. While you can’t avoid deliveries, you can make them safer by acknowledging how COVID-19 spreads and mitigating the risks.

The guiding principle is to minimize potential interactions. Ideally, you only want visitors in one area of the facility, and clients should restrict other traffic in that area as much as possible. Your clients may find it’s a good idea to use appropriate signage to direct arrivals including signs that:

  • Tell visitors where to go
  • Remind drivers to enter indoor areas one at a time to aid social distancing
  • Identify no-go zones (worksites, common areas, etc.)
  • Direct drivers to sanitary facilities available to drivers
  • Remind visitors of good respiratory hygiene

Your clients should also have a risk management plan for interacting with visitors. At a minimum, they should consider:

  • Requiring PPE for all visitors (e.g., face masks, hand sanitizers, etc.)
  • Considering segregated warehouse activities
  • MInimizing the physical handover of paperwork (i.e., going digital) where possible
  • Minimizing opportunities for spread within their own premises (e.g., organizing staff in separate and non-changeable shifts)
  • Keeping records of visitors to buildings/job sites (e.g., names, companies, date/time, and contact details)
  • Maintaining hand-washing and sanctuary facilities for drivers
  • Following a precise hygiene and cleaning schedule for the entire workplace

Don’t forget to reiterate the importance of workers staying home when they feel unwell or have any symptoms of COVID-19; your clients should share their policies on the matter with their suppliers. Early identification of potential cases is one of the most efficient ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For more support and guidance, encourage clients to work with local public health bodies and their state’s COVID-19 task force.

How Target is Keeping Distribution Teams Safe

While many companies keep their COVID-19 plans under wraps, Target shared its steps to create a safe environment in its distribution centers.

Target’s work includes:

  • Encouraging health screening checks prior to arriving at the facility
  • Providing PPE (masks and gloves) to team members
  • Encouraging adherence to CDC hygiene recommendations
  • Reconfiguring workspaces for social distancing
  • Stagging breaks
  • Using signage and floor decals
  • Pausing in-person meetings
  • Providing  large scale loor and wall decals guiding workers through safety precautions

Target is also clear about outbreaks. The company communicates its benefits to those who test positive (including its 100% pay during the 14 day quarantine period) and informing staff of positive cases at facilities they work at. Target also deep cleans and disinfects facilities using CDC and health department guidelines.

Create Response Processes and Team Structures

It’s challenging to avoid COVID-19, which is in part why it’s so critical to have a response plan. Your clients should understand their vulnerabilities and nominate a response team to manage the process.

Help your clients’ response team create a suitable process for dealing with those vulnerabilities, and suggest they involve key suppliers in these plans. Don’t forget to keep them abreast of what is and isn’t possible with their coverage and make sure they understand not only their workers compensation policy but any other insurance policies you service as their broker.

Your clients should also create business continuity plans for critical operations, including supplies, communication, and transport.

Start Looking Towards Sustainable Supply Chains

Most modern supply chains are already unsustainable because they rely on the free flow of materials across the globe: COVID-19 is only highlighting the deficiencies millions of companies face. 

Now is the right time to start looking towards supply chains better designed to withstand interruption in the future: interruption will continue post-COVID-19, whether the cause is severe weather, climate-related disasters, worker shortages, political upheaval, or changes in trade.

Encourage clients who struggle to fill in the blanks on their supply chain maps to consider second sources, local sources, and other alternatives that may better protect them from disruption. These changes don’t need to happen now, but most businesses will see some kind of supply chain challenges in the not-so-distant future.

Check out the World Economic Forum’s article on building sustainable, resilient supply chains as we enter a post-COVID world.

You helped your clients work hard to minimize the risk of COVID-19 in their workplaces. However, COVID can still spread through supply chains. By taking proactive steps to identify vulnerabilities and minimize interactions, your clients can avoid accidentally receiving a shipment of goods and a COVID-19 outbreak on the same truck.

Helping your clients avoid losses is a key part of your service offering — and Foresight can help. Check out our FAQs or get in touch to find out more about how our proprietary technology is transforming workers compensation.

Author: Foresight

We’re a team of compliance, safety, and commercial insurance professionals transforming workers compensation. We write about technology, trends, regulations, and value-adding services.