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Picking, packing and social distancing: is it possible?

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WSL explores the feasibility of picking and packing processes while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

It is the question of the hour for every warehouse manager; in these trying times, how can a busy warehouse continue to operate, without compromising on the safety of personnel and clients? Many warehouses provide the storage and distribution for essential products, which must continue to be delivered throughout the pandemic so that key services can continue uninterrupted.

The COVID- 19 pandemic has plunged industries and businesses into an unprecedented situation, with many struggling to keep up with brand new regulations and guidelines. As a result, many operations are closing for a period, while management consider their options. Managers and business owners are committed to keeping their staff safe, while also striving to keep businesses solvent and key products moving out of the warehouse and to where they are required.

Many warehouse managers and owners have reviewed their structure and processes to find ways to operate safely within the current guidelines.

Warehouse specialists Warehouse Systems Limited look at some of the social distancing mechanisms that warehouses may put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following government guidelines

Most organisations are adding a COVID-19 appendix to any Health and Safety documentation they already have. It will be important for managers to familiarise themselves with government guidelines and apply them carefully to their own situation, with regards to the use of gloves, masks, antibacterial gel and regular hand washing. Shared areas and duties which involve employees working in close proximity of one another will need to be assessed. Employees should be informed of the new working guidelines at the earliest opportunity as well as being included in your official health and safety policy

A one-way system

Adjusting the layout of racks and shelving can allow a system to be put into place to ensure the movement through a warehouse is in one direction only; avoiding colleagues passing each other on narrow aisles. This may involve moving racking away from walls to create additional space at both ends of every rack. Adding cross aisles may also be beneficial. This increase in aisle space may temporarily mean that there is less storage area available, but this can be mitigated by other means. Many companies are choosing to limit the number of different lines that are for sale or are rationing products to some extent.

Strategic planning

Some warehouses will be changing shift patterns so that the warehouse is open for longer hours but with fewer staff working at any one time. For this to work effectively, there will need to be deep cleaning of shared areas between each shift. There may also be a staggering of operations within each shift, so personnel are not required to be in the same place at the same time; how this works will depend very much on the operations of each individual warehouse and warehouse managers will need to plan strategically.

A mezzanine

Some companies already have mezzanine floors; others are finding that they are relatively straightforward to have installed. Mezzanine floors are an ideal solution for segregating staff. They can be used for small numbers of personnel to complete operations away from the movement on the floor below. The mezzanine can be used as a packing area, office, or a staff rest area.

Automated systems

Many types of pallet racking and shelving are already designed to require little contact. First In, First Out (FIFO) systems, such as Pallet Live Racking, allow pallets to be loaded into block storage from one aisle, and accessed via a different aisle, thanks to a roller system. This system also means there is no compromise on the amount that can be stored, as the block racking allows extremely dense storage. Radio Shuttle Racking is another type of block storage, that moves products about automatically on shuttles, with very little handling. Conveyors can be used to move products from place to place and chutes can take products from mezzanine floors down to the floor below without the need to be transported via goods lifts.


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