It’s been around nine months since the coronavirus began to impact on our lives, and while there are several promising vaccines, it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Countries all over Europe are seeing a resurgence of the virus, and lockdowns have been selectively employed in regions across the UK. With the traditional flu season now setting in, there is a genuine possibility that businesses may have to impose tighter restrictions in order to remain open.
Warehouse operators are luckier than some, in that the spaces available to them aren’t as limited as many offices or storefronts. Yet the aisles of pallet racking and picking process can present their own issues, particularly where there is a high density of traffic. One solution may be to overhaul your racking in a way that’s more Covid friendly – but is such a drastic change really necessary, and what are the other options you might want to consider?
The coronavirus pandemic has been a major challenge for businesses in all sectors, even with the assistance provided by the government. With many people back at their workplaces thanks to the tier system, we may be returning to the ‘new normal’. Of course, despite the long awaited news for a vaccine, infection rates continue to remain high and as we enter the winter flu season, this may only get worse – and force the introduction of stricter measures.
What is up for debate is whether this will involve another full lockdown after the Christmas period to help lower the case rate that we are bound to see as families and loved ones interact over the holiday season. The coronavirus job retention scheme was a huge help for businesses, helping them to avoid unnecessary redundancies, but it cost the government an enormous amount of money. Similar measures will likely be unsustainable, particularly as the UK absorbs the shock of the end of the Brexit transition period, which finally arrives in January 2021.
As such, it seems likely that the government will follow the ‘Swedish model’, now touted by some major epidemiologists. The argument is that the total lockdown employed by the UK (and many other nations) failed either to protect vulnerable groups or protect the economy. Instead, they argue, the UK should be looking to manage the virus through better testing and good behaviour, while keeping businesses, schools and public services running.
Preparing your business
If this scenario does play out as many suspect, it will leave businesses in a similar position to where they are now. On the one hand, this may not necessitate great change, as you are likely to have carried out risk assessments and made adjustments already. On the other hand, there is a good chance that the HSE will be a central cog in this new strategy, and that breaches of virus protocols will be treated much more harshly. It also means accepting that the virus is here to stay, at least for the time being – which may force you to reconsider any temporary solutions.
For many businesses, the demands of coronavirus prevention are less than ideal. In a retail space, this means finding a way for people to safely navigate often small premises, often leading to greatly reduced capacity. The problem in warehouses is similar, albeit on a different scale. If your racking uses narrow aisles, it may have meant creating one-way systems, and a reappraisal of traffic flow. If it’s a relatively small space, and not particularly well ventilated, it may have meant setting limits on the number of operatives, and making sure this is monitored.
While a vaccine has been approved as safe to administer in the UK and vulnerable people are already receiving the first doses, it will still take months for the majority of the population to reap the benefits of this incredible leap, which makes these temporary annoyances become more troubling. The inefficiencies they have created will stack up over time, and could completely halt the growth of many firms. This might mean reconsidering how you use your space, and whether it needs to be more flexible. For warehouses, this could mean changes to your racking – in terms of usage, how it is laid out, and how much of your floor space it takes up.
Adjusting your racking for COVID
Whether or not you are currently using high density pallet racking, there are a few options you might consider to free up more space, and enhance your coronavirus measures. If you aren’t using a high density racking solution, this is an obvious place to start. If you have limited access requirements, then narrow aisle pallet racking could help you to save as much as 50% of your current floor space, freeing up part of your warehouse or doubling your storage capacity.
Of course, if you’re looking to create more space to allow for two-way systems in your warehouse, you may want to consider other options. A flexible wide aisle pallet racking system would give you the additional space you need, while also retaining the benefits of high density racking. With a modular design, this racking could easily be adapted to other uses in future, moved around as your space requirements change, or even relocated entirely.
Alternatively, you could consider a solution that limits traversal, or changes the means by which personnel move through the warehouse space. Pallet shuttle racking for instance might allow you to retrieve goods from especially deep racking, preserving density while allowing for wide aisles. And if you have an advanced WMS, you might consider an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) or even autonomous vehicles, to limit the number of people needed to pick goods.
All of this is slightly speculative, and the situation around the coronavirus is still changing from week to week. The only thing we can say with any certainty though is that it’s likely to stick around for a while yet, and that similar uncertainty could strike in future. Deploying a flexible pallet racking solution now could be a great way to maintain efficiency in your warehouse while also keeping people safe – and insuring yourself against an uncertain future.