Maintaining social distance for truck drivers may be relatively easy to manage, but it’s more of a challenge for warehouse workers, as recent cases have proved...

As panic buying eases, so too is the intense pressure being put on the warehouse operations of food retailers and distributors. But managing hygiene and social distancing requirements still poses challenges: “Safety of staff remains the highest priority and the operations at warehouses and online delivery hubs must strictly adhere to government guidelines on hygiene and social distancing," Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation at the British Retail Consortium, told

The BRC issued guidelines regarding social distancing for warehouses and distribution to all its members on 30 March. It recommends:

• Use floor markings inside to facilitate compliance with the social distancing advice of two metres, particularly in the most crowded areas.

• Make regular announcements to remind staff to follow social distancing advice and clean their hands regularly.

• Consider physical barriers if feasible, as an additional element of protection for workers.

• Stagger shifts start, end and break times.

• Limit non-essential movement between sites or areas.

• Leave non-essential doors open to avoid multiple use. This does not apply to fire doors.

• Identify and clean key touch points e.g. door handles, keypads.

The BRC guidelines also include advice concerning staff canteens and rest areas as well as good hygiene practice, covering handwashing and cleaning.

“Warehouses are doing their best at the moment to ensure the safety of their staff”, a BRC spokesman told us. “Thankfully, it is easier in a warehouse, which is a controlled environment, where there are no customers to implement and enforce social distancing and other hygiene measures."

Added Mike Ball, safety and security manager for logistics at the Co-Op: “We’ve implemented a wide range of measures that were identified from our initial risk assessment and through continued engagement and feedback.

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"Social distancing measures range from reducing the number of colleagues allowed in our canteen areas with allocating defined seating areas, to changing the way we access and egress the warehouse using newly defined 'one way in and one way out' directions. What we are asking and changing in the workplace is replicated in daily life now, which has helped the transition.”

Cambridgeshire-based Knowles transport operates five warehouses and MD Alex Knowles told us: “As a management team, we’re doing regular walkarounds and to be honest, the penny has dropped. In communal areas like canteens, we’ve got a ‘one in, one out’ policy.”

Knowles Transport is also holding daily crisis management meetings to monitor the situation.

Ball said the Co-Op was "constantly reviewing and looking at the controls we’ve introduced and asking for feedback from our colleagues and unions so we can ensure any areas for improvement can be picked up.”

He added that he'd seen a definite easing of panic buying: “Where we were looking at probably 30% more volume, that’s now down to probably between 5-10%,” he said.

A Tesco spokesman agreed: “In recent days, as panic buying has eased, we’ve been able to increase stock to normal levels for most products,” he said.

Knowles said his daily committee meetings have been really helpful: “It allows us to take in the ever-changing situation and make quick decisions. We have a contingency in place if key people go off. So whether that’s a transport manager or warehouse manager, then someone from the leadership team will go and fill that role. If it’s a fork-truck driver or lorry driver then we use agency staff.”

Knowles Transport is also monitoring daily self-isolators: “We look for patterns to see where the most cases of self-isolation have come from and if we are seeing more from a certain warehouse or certain part of a warehouse, then obviously it tells us that we need to check on social distancing," Knowles said.

“We did see an increase in numbers for a certain site and that has now dropped off a bit. What we changed process-wise was the smoking area. We put four-metre pens in with one person in a pen at a time, because we thought that it might be that this was where it was being passed on.”

Added Ball: "We need to adapt, have real flexibility and think completely differently. To do that we need everyone to come together and share thoughts and ideas. Often some of the best insight comes from those facing the challenges front on, so we must continue to channel this and act accordingly.”

Links: Government guidance for employers and businesses on coronavirus -

BRC Coronavirus Hub: