A warehouse worker in the warehouse wearing a mask.

What does the new normal look like for warehouse jobs?

While the majority of the population have only recently emerged from lockdown, many people in Warehouse Operative jobs, particularly those in the food industry, have had to continue working throughout. So unlike businesses that are only now able to start operating again, warehouses and depots already have experience of instigating new safety measures and seeing how these work in the warehouse environment. Here we take a look at the new normal for warehouse jobs and what the future of work in the warehouse may look like. 

What key differences are those in warehouse jobs seeing in their working environment to comply with the current safety guidance?

Considered essential, a lot of warehouses remained operational throughout the lockdown period and had to prepare the workplace very quickly in order to adhere to the new social distancing and hygiene rules.

While the overall risk of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated, employers have to do everything they can to make the workplace a safe environment. In line with government guidance, management have to carry out a risk assessment in consultation with warehouse workers and unions and make appropriate changes to the workspace and their capacity for staff. 

As a large food retailer, Co-op has warehouses and depots across the UK. Martin Stack, the Health & Safety Manager for their 600,000 square foot warehouse in Newhouse told us about the challenge they have faced in making vast changes throughout their facility. With a situation that no one in logistics has ever come across before, they have had to re-write the rules across the whole network as they have gone along.  

The Newhouse Co-op warehouse has had to alter their building in various ways to meet the requirements. As well as extra hand-sanitising provision, they have put in a complete one-way system throughout their facility and implemented measures to ensure each shift stays separated.  Parts of the warehouse have been fenced off and where they once had one main door, they have opened up other doors to the building so people can enter and leave through different entrances and exits. The start and finish times of each shift have also been changed so Warehouse Operatives can avoid contact with the next shift departing and arriving.

Prioritising certain things is something that Co-op have looked at as part of their plan for the foreseeable future of work in their warehouses. Considering who actually needs to be on the premises to do their job has meant that office staff are working from home, freeing up office space that is being used as additional break room facilities for Warehouse Operatives who have to remain on the premises. Non-essential warehouse tasks are currently on hold, other tasks have been reduced and some colleagues have been relocated to cover the essential jobs.

Some of the measures that warehouses have had to take to safeguard their teams and ensure their safety include:

  • clear floor markings to emphasise the 2 metre ruling
  • displaying signs, stickers and posters everywhere with health and safety information
  • putting up Perspex screens on packing benches, desks and workstations
  • ensuring benches are adequately spaced
  • reducing equipment rotation and sharing of workstations so they are used by as few people as possible and can be cleaned thoroughly in-between
  • increasing common spaces like canteen and break areas
  • restricting access to some areas
  • regulating use of high traffic areas such as lifts and corridors
  • staggering shifts and break times to avoid congestion
  • working in fixed teams or partners to reduce the number of people each individual comes into contact with
  • additional hand sanitising dispensers or hand washing facilities where possible
  • ongoing health and safety checks

What can those in Warehouse Operative jobs do to help protect themselves and keep others safe?

Where you have a large number of people used to working together in one place, it can be a big challenge to get everyone to be responsible for keeping to the social distancing rules. 

As a result, it is necessary for everyone in warehouse jobs to remember the rules about staying safe and adhering to social distancing. Training by warehouse employers to refresh and review the measures in place, keeping them in the forefront of everyone’s minds, is important. However,  protecting warehouse staff as much as possible is reliant on everyone playing their part in being aware and vigilant.  

To help keep everyone involved, Radial have relied on their warehouse colleagues to come up with suggestions on how to change and improve the warehouse work environment. They have actively encouraged them to put forward their ideas on how Management can make them feel that they have a safe environment to work in.

While not compulsory, anyone working in warehouse jobs can choose to wear protective face masks if they wish to and Warehouse Managers must support their staff if they choose to do so.

The current situation has put extra pressure on everyone’s job, not only because of the unprecedented volumes being seen in the warehouse industry for the time of year, but also because everyone has had to be more careful and flexible to accommodate the changes put in place.

The government guidance for working safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a useful resource for anyone in Warehouse Operative jobs to understand the new safety measures in their workplace. 

What does the new safety guidance mean for the demand of Warehouse Operative jobs?

One of the issues that warehouse management are still having to deal with is the proportion of their staff who have been instructed to shield or cannot work due to having vulnerable family members. In these circumstances they are unable to come into the workplace and so warehouses are finding they are needing more agency staff to fill Warehouse Operative jobs.

Co-op is one company that always has a need for agency staff and over the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic they have required extra manpower and brought in lots of temporary staff from a variety of backgrounds. 

Many warehouses have stayed in operation throughout the last few months and as more retailers are now opening up, warehouses are set to get even busier. In order to adhere to social distancing rules, warehouses have had to be creative. By eliminating some non-essential tasks, all staff can focus on the most necessary work while working in shorter shifts, meaning there is no need to reduce the number of warehouse jobs and in some cases a need to take on additional staff.

If you are thinking about temporary Warehouse Operative jobs as an option read our blog Should you get a temporary seasonal job? This can help answer some questions you may have, though some things may differ due to the current unprecedented situation. 

You can search our latest Warehouse Operative jobs to find a position near you. 

What will the future of work be for the Warehouse industry and Warehouse Operative jobs?

As with all businesses, the warehouse industry is guided by the government and NHS and they continue to change their policies and practices to mirror those guidelines. They will also continue to make changes and improvements based on their own experience and the lessons learnt over the past months and beyond.

For the immediate future, warehouses need to prepare and be ready to meet the demand of summer volumes and then look ahead to Christmas. Radial have found that they are effectively already in peak as they have seen volumes increase since the start of COVID-19. They are faced with the challenge of volumes increasing further, which could mean adding shifts so that they can increase outputs without compromising social distancing procedures. 

It is still uncertain what the effect of the pandemic will have on how consumers will shop in the future, but there is an expectation that more people will continue to shop online for convenience and ease. This means the warehouse industry will have to evolve and adapt to meet new demands. 

Our blog Future of work: Post COVID-19 world of warehouse jobs gives more insight into the possible short, medium and long term effects on Warehouse Operative jobs. 

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