By Rob Charters   |  
June 17th, 2020

How these 5 logistics subsectors are getting back to business safely during COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by every single person and business in the world. At SafetyCulture, we’ve seen businesses adapt to these challenges by embracing new processes and adapting to a new way of working. Never before have logistics and supply chain businesses been so impacted before, yet risen to the challenge that COVID-19 has posed. Now, we’re starting to see new trends emerge as the logistics and supply chain world prepares to get safely back to business. Here are some insights from sub sectors throughout the industry to help you plan a safe reopening. 

Trends in supply chain management

Is fat better than lean?

The global trend of lean production and just-in-time manufacturing has decreased inventory levels across industries. In the past, inventory reserves provided a buffer for unforeseen events, allowing supply to continue unaffected. Now, increased competition and lower margins have fuelled ultra-lean supply chains. The perception of inventory has shifted from an insulating buffer to an avoidable cost that must be minimized. This shift in attitude has allowed organizations to benefit from increased efficiency and reduce wastage, enhancing the balance sheets of many businesses. However, flaws have now been exposed as the black swan event of this crisis challenged ingrained principles of supply and production. As supply chains recover, will businesses require a layer of fat to make it through any future storms?

Get safely back to business with these free business continuity checklists:

Decentralization begins 

The crisis has exposed fragility in the modern supply chain of many businesses with centralized operations. As China grew to become the factory of the world, many organizations overlooked the inherent risks associated with placing all of your eggs in a single manufacturing basket. However, the risk that many leaders selectively overlooked has now become a crippling reality for their businesses. Manufacturing and logistics operations have become dependent on a small number of geographically centralized locations creating a single point of failure. Now, as supply chain resilience becomes essential, businesses are looking to decentralize operations throughout the world. Shifts towards local production will be matched by efforts to expand into new manufacturing frontiers like Vietnam, Mexico, and India.

Enhanced supply chain visibility

Broken supply chains have created new challenges for manufacturers around the globe. Lean manufacturing pushed sourcing costs onto the books of suppliers, and visibility of second and third-tier components disappeared along with their value on balance sheets. Shortages that weren’t even considered by businesses have flatlined production capacity. Many of the supply issues that occurred could have been addressed with sufficient visibility and proper supply modeling. Now, organizations have recognized the need to have full visibility of each step throughout their supply chain to ensure ongoing resilience to external forces.

Trends in air transportation

Cargo space evaporates

Passenger planes around the world have been grounded as countries impose strict restrictions on immigration. The excess cargo space on passenger aircraft is regularly used by logistics providers to move packages from country to country. As passenger numbers plummeted, planes stayed on the ground, and cargo space evaporated. This new shortage of air cargo space has resulted in extraordinary price increases for international cargo.

Face masks for the long haul

Many forms of transportation require multiple crew members to work together for operational or safety requirements. The close and prolonged contact between these crew members presents an unacceptable risk of transmission occurring. Face masks are now mandatory for crew members at many organizations to lower the risk of transmission and ensure safety for all crew members.

Flying packages not people

Sharp reductions in passenger flights, combined with a rapid increase in e-commerce purchases, have left logistics providers desperately searching for more cargo space. The solution has been to repurpose existing passenger planes with seats intact for use as cargo planes. Passenger airlines have covered up seats with plastic protection shields and filled cabins with packages. The practice has become so prolific among major airlines that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued official guidance for airlines describing the steps for safely transitioning passenger cabins to cargo carriers.

Trends in road transportation

Drivers out, cleaners in

For transportation workers, sharing their vehicles, spaces, and tools with others is an essential part of getting the job done. Crew members are regularly changed at short notice, compounding the challenges faced throughout the industry. As the crisis spread, organizations increased sanitation program frequency to ensure the safety of workers. When vehicles arrive at crew changeover locations, specialized cleaning crews get to work cleaning every surface. Once completed, certificates or digital checklists are issued to crew members to confirm that cleaning has occurred. The enhanced sanitation programs provide workers with an important tool to help avoid infection. 

Telematic safety

Road transport has become more important than ever within supply chains, as trucks pick up the slack left by reduced domestic air freight. The demands on road freight providers have increased since the crisis began with many organizations seeking out new technology. The safety of drivers is one of the critical areas of concern across providers as demands increase and labor supply lags behind. New advanced telematics solutions are helping businesses to manage driver safety by tracking driving times and rest periods. The technology can also help with optimizing routes and loads for maximum operational efficiency.

Sorry this cab is full

Confined space is an inescapable reality for many transportation workers globally. To maintain social distancing requirements, organizations have placed restrictions on the number of crew members allowed in confined crew compartments. In the past, crew members could travel alongside the operators of vehicles as passengers to reach their next destination. Now, this practice has been curtailed in the interest of worker safety.

Trends in sea transportation

Shipping volumes slide

Global restrictions on ports have profoundly impacted the sea freight industry. Throughout the crisis, volumes have nose-dived as countries imposed strict measures to protect their citizens. As Chinese factories closed down, the number of container ships carrying goods from ports in China slowed down to a trickle. The overall crisis-induced trend towards lower consumption will further contribute to reduced shipping volumes throughout 2020.

Shore leave banned

Workers on board vessels that dock in countries with a high level of infection are prohibited from leaving the ship. The standard process of accessing shore leave has been temporarily abandoned to prioritize safety for all workers. If operation-critical tasks are required onshore, strict PPE requirements are mandatory with mandatory face masks and gloves.

Digital documents only

Infections can quickly spread between workers at sea, due to the proximity required to complete tasks and confined living quarters. To mitigate the risk of infection, shipping companies have banned visitors from entering vessels at ports. In the past, paper documentation was exchanged in person on ships. Now, documentation for deliveries, customs paperwork, and refueling slips are swapped via email.

Quarantine delays

Many global ports that are located in countries with high levels of infection have implemented 14-day quarantine periods. If ships arrive with workers infected or showing signs of infection, mandatory testing is carried out on all crew members. If testing returns positive results after the first quarantine period, then further restrictions apply.

Trends in warehousing

Disinfectant fogging

In large logistics distribution centers, cleaning is more complicated than other smaller locations due to the sheer magnitude of the spaces. However, the need for safely protecting employees is just as crucial as other smaller locations. In Amazon’s warehouses dotted across US cities, the global logistics giant has implemented pilot fogging programs. Machines produce food-safe disinfectant vapor that kills viruses on surfaces and in the air. The fogging pilot program allows rapid disinfecting to occur faster than traditional cleaning methods and enhanced safety for workers.

Free checklists to prevent the spread of coronavirus:

Businesses pick robots

Currently, over 90% of warehouse picking in the US is manually completed. This dependence on humans to complete processing tasks continues to create labor supply issues within distribution centers. Amazon and other large warehousing companies regularly struggle to recruit workers when unemployment levels are low. The crisis has further expedited the shift towards robots for picking tasks with warehouses first on the list for investment in technology.

X marks the spot

Organizations are racing to implement markers that encourage worker separation throughout warehouses to comply with social distancing guidelines. Bright lines of separation, colored dots, and red tape crosses signify safe distances throughout warehouses everywhere.

Free checklists for social distancing:

Important Notice
The information contained in this article is general in nature and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your specific needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are based on our interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. We are not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article. SafetyCulture disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article, any site linked to this article, and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.