Home>Industry Sector>Chemicals & Pharma>Keeping a safe distance in the warehouse
Home>Industry Sector>Distribution>Keeping a safe distance in the warehouse
Home>Industry Sector>Food & drink>Keeping a safe distance in the warehouse

Keeping a safe distance in the warehouse

07 April 2020

Logistics consultancy Davies & Robson has released a comprehensive guide to social distancing in the warehouse.

It is in all our interests to adapt our behaviours quickly and fully to slow the spread of coronavirus. We anticipate social distancing measures will be required for several months; therefore, most organisations will need to adopt social distancing in the workplace.

The Davies & Robson team has compiled some practical ideas to support essential warehouse operations to maintain or recommence some level of activity while following Government guidance and WHO recommendations.



  • Consult with colleagues to establish whether they should be at work. 
  • Should they, or anyone in their household, be shielded for 12 weeks?  If yes, they must not be in work. 
  • Shielding criteria is available on the gov.uk website; monitor this guidance for changes.


  • Be clear that you expect colleagues to self-isolate for 7 days should they develop symptoms of coronavirus; or 14 days if anyone in their household or that they have been in close contact with shows symptoms. 
  • Have a clear sick pay policy for 7- or 14-day self-isolation periods.


  • Invite colleagues to nominate themselves as available for work. 
  • Where possible, permit use of annual leave, toil or unpaid time off for those unable to arrange childcare or who elect to stay home.


  • Conduct day in the life of the operation risk assessments to identify areas where social distancing measures may not be feasible, for example health and safety requirements for two-person heavy lifting. 
  • If such activities are essential and cannot be suspended until social distancing measures can be relaxed further measures will be required such as appropriate handling equipment or full PPE and training.



  • Accept that usual efficiencies and targets are going to be adversely affected by social distancing measures as underutilisation and delays will increase.
  • Estimate the impact of these inefficiencies on profitability and take steps to protect margins by reducing or withdrawing some services, mothball underutilised facilities or equipment, focus on orders over a given value threshold, restrict orders or product available, apply a minimal surcharge if practical, or simply accept loss-leaders to protect future business.
  • Revise or suspend productivity targets and monitoring.
  • Reschedule non-essential activities.


  • Identify customer requirements and suppliers’ ability to meet your needs. 
  • Revise delivery schedules to better suit new ways of working.
  • Draft an initial plan based on known supply and demand and estimate the staffing levels required to deliver it. 
  • Revise the plan based on 80%, 50% and 30% staff availability to prioritise in advance. 
  • Commit to fulfilment levels on a daily or weekly basis but continue to plan further ahead. 
  • Maintain open communication with customers and suppliers.  Cooperation will be key.


  • Reduce the number of people on shift at any time.
  • Increase the number of shifts.  Introduce additional shifts per day or a 7-day-week shift pattern; these temporary changes may require consultation, handle them sensitively.


  • Increase and distribute dedicated supervisory resource across all shifts. 
  • If there is a shortage, create leading-hand roles where the role is 70% functional, 30% supervisory. 
  • Designate deputies for critical management or skilled roles, avoid rostering deputies on the same shift as the primaries.


  • Lead discussions to explore how every link in the supply chain might work together to make the chain less complex and more efficient during this time.


  • Contact your WMS provider to explore how your system might be configured to better suit the need for workplace zones or changed picking and replenishment routines. It may be possible to activate pre-existing settings. 
  • Speak with your parcel and pallet carriers to activate consignment consolidation to reduce order packing complexity. 
  • Ask your consumables provider for guidance on the required PPE. 
  • Enquire whether your MHE provider has a solution to enclose truck cabs. 
  • Seek advice from your IT and telephony providers about how to manage remote working and simplify communication within a tight budget. 



  • Create zones to segregate colleagues in order to simplify adherence to social distancing measures. 
  • Designate individual work zones for each colleague who can work in a fixed location.  Mark the floor where possible to clearly define these zones. 
  • If flexible zones are required, define using different colour space marker cones, temporary signage or tape. 
  • Allocate picking zones to encompass specific racking, shelving or block stack aisles. 
  • Any aisles which cannot be converted into dedicated (single colleague) zones should be restricted to one-way traffic, mark the directions clearly on the floor.  Centre and perimeter aisles will likely need to be two-way but passing may not be permitted where a safe distance can’t be maintained. 
  • Where packing or kitting activities are performed in close-proximity lines or fixed cells create physical barriers between colleagues.


  • In conjunction with planning workplace zones, reduce movement and waiting by dissecting end-to-end workflows into smaller segments with natural handover points; this is key for efficiency and successful implementation of social distancing measures. 
  • Pay close attention to work balancing the segments to avoid creating bottlenecks or delays
  • Consider how to prime the system with in-process WIP where possible to reduce waiting, for example appropriately scheduled start and finish times and interleaving multiple smaller orders between larger ones.


  • Create ample pick and deposit locations in support of workplace zones and work segmentation and balancing. 
  • Empty bays adjacent to the centre aisle(s) for putaway and replenishment movements
  • Utilise ground locations next to perimeter aisles to support the flow of order picking between zones.


  • Relocate inventory in preparation for the introduction of workplace zones.  Avoid underutilising aisles, distribute the inventory and workload throughout all zones.
  • Introduce product family groupings to improve pick efficiencies. 
  • If introducing sequential zone picking for full orders, reposition heavy products to the start of the pick route and fragile items to the end. 
  • Move fast moving items to block stack or nearest to the packing area. 
  • Co-locate bulk above pickfaces where possible. 
  • Relocate slow moving or non-essential items to highest locations or move to long-term storage.  
  • Use newly available locations to increase pickface and bulk stock capacity for the ongoing operation.



  • All non-automatic doors present a contamination risk.  Some doors (not security or fire doors) may be safely propped open. 
  • Install a hand sanitisation station on both sides of any door that must be closed. 
  • Create one-way routes around the premises where corridors do not allow 2 metres in which to pass. 
  • Identify additional entry / exit points, utilise fire doors under supervision.


  • Identify and test communication methods that will reduce the need for colleagues to be face-to-face and prevent the need to search for one another. 
  • Use low-cost mobile phones or walkie-talkies. 
  • Aim to issue devices to every colleague, avoid the need to share.
  • Hold shift meetings in an open area where social distancing can be maintained. 
  • Use mobile devices to reduce the need for colleagues to be face-to-face
  • Use video chat to show and tell for problem solving.
  • Use email, text or direct messaging to share information.


  • Procure hand soap and sanitiser, disposable towels, sanitising wipes and surface cleaners, disposable gloves in a range of sizes and materials and safety glasses or visors
  • Face masks are thought to be largely ineffective but may be required, alongside disposable outer layers, where social distancing absolutely cannot be achieved. 
  • Wearing gloves and safety glasses or a visor is a good deterrent from touching faces which will help to prevent contamination
  • PPE should be donned at start of shift.  Gloves should be changed whenever necessary.


  • Print posters, display and regularly refresh information around the workplace. 
  • Repurpose digital screens to show hygiene and social distancing requirements. 
  • Share results of risk assessments.
  • Publish any new policies



  • Routinely check that social distancing and sanitisation measures are being adhered to. 
  • Use CCTV or real-time location tracking where available.
  • Act quickly to highlight and address any deviation from the standards.


  • Continually adjust the social distancing measures to improve their effectiveness, the ability to sustain social distancing will be vital to maintaining operations. 
  • Invite suggestions from colleagues, research best practise online, approach contacts and peers for further ideas.



  • Establish a shift sanitisation team, fully equipped to clean all contact points, with a defined schedule of touchpoints to clean periodically.
  • Colleagues must clean all MHE, tape dispensers, PDAs, keyboards, mice, touchscreens etc. at the start and end of use.


  • Reduce interaction between colleagues on arrival at work. 
  • Identify colleagues from different households who lift-share and ensure they make other arrangements
  • Stagger start times by a few minutes to prevent crowding, mark the floor to create a safe queue zone where needed. 
  • Introduce multiple points of entry if practical. 
  • You may want to consider providing temperature recording equipment to screen colleagues on arrival but be aware these will need to be sanitised after every use. 
  • Dispense with time recording systems that require touch, utilise reports from WMS user login data to identify those present or take a register during the shift. Assume everyone starts on time unless otherwise reported by the supervisory team. 
  • Provide changing room facilities so outdoor clothing can be removed to avoid contamination. 
  • Require everyone wash hands and don PPE before starting work. 
  • If colleagues rotate roles, send texts detailing the day’s assignment or display the day’s rosters prominently.


  • Stagger breaks to avoid congregating in doorways, toilets, canteen or smoking area. 
  • It may be necessary to introduce batch processing and in-process WIP to facilitate staggered breaks, start and finish times. 
  • Extend breaks by a few minutes to allow time to wash hands thoroughly before and after. 
  • Clearly indicate the canteen seats which should be used to maintain social distancing or cover those that should not be used.  Mark standing positions in the smoking area.
  • Vending machines and communal fridges will need to be sanitised regularly or removed from use. 
  • Switch canteen payments to digital channels or provide credit and deduct from payroll.
  • Use disposable cups, plates and cutlery. 


  • Reduce interaction between colleagues on leaving work. 
  • Stagger finish times by a few minutes to prevent crowding and do not permit colleagues to congregate outside the premises. 
  • Allow colleagues to finish a few minutes early to thoroughly wash hands and change into outdoor clothing.
  • Dispense with time recording systems that require touch, assume everyone finishes on time unless otherwise reported by the supervisory team. 
  • If another shift is due to start, utilise separate entrances / exits, e.g. fire doors, or ensure all colleagues have left the building before colleagues on the next shift start to arrive.



  • Designate a drivers’ waiting area away from colleagues and the normal work environment, drivers may wait in their cabs if necessary.
  • Drivers must not hand over their keys to loaders, instead keys should be deposited in a place that is visible to ensure safe working practices.
  • Plan longer delivery slots, especially for rigid loads which will need to be unloaded by a single colleague in order to maintain social distancing measures. 
  • Break the receiving process into smaller work segments – for example unload, relocate to receiving bay, check delivery and goods receipt, prepare for putaway – to improve overall processing time and utilisation of resources. 
  • Adhere to work zones which ensure the segregation of colleagues with clearly marked handover areas between each. 
  • Use conveyors to transfer cartons or totes between colleagues.


  • If possible complete putaway alongside replenishment on a separate shift to picking activity.
  • Centre aisle(s) traffic may be two-way, but colleagues should not pass in the aisle unless truck cabs are enclosed. 
  • Use P&D locations for movements. 
  • Where putaway is required within designated picking zones, normal safe working distances should exceed social distancing measures.
  • If the centre aisle is a busy environment schedule putaway waves and suspend other activity, take advantage of breaks and staggered start and finish times to avoid underutilisation and waiting.


  • If possible complete replen alongside putaway tasks on a separate shift to picking activity.
  • Separate pickface replenishment into distinct work segments: bulk pick, replen, residual putaway. 
  • As with putaway, utilise P&D locations for movements. 
  • Colleagues assigned to picking zones should complete the pickface replenishment where possible. 
  • If necessary, introduce replenishment waves and suspend picking in each zone during the replen activity, take advantage of breaks and staggered start and finish times to avoid underutilisation and waiting.


  • The design of workplace zones and WMS capability will significantly influence the picking processes
  • Simplest, but least efficient and most prone to non-adherence to social distancing measures, is
    non-zoned order picking following one-way routes with no passing permitted. 
  • More efficient, but prone to bottlenecks and underutilisation of colleagues, is order picking through sequential segregated picking zones utilising P&D locations to handover to the next zone. 
  • The most efficient approach to picking is batch order picking in designated zones, although floorspace for secondary sort and packing is likely to be lacking in most organisations that do not already work this way.


  • Fixed packing stations may be positioned too close together, create physical barriers using perspex, sturdy card or timber. 
  • Adapt the flow and layout of handover / marshalling areas to adhere to social distancing measures.  Additional movements are likely to be necessary to drop and relocate pallets at approved distances.  
  • Where possible, use conveyors to transfer cartons or totes. 
  • Dedicate a colleague to supply packing materials, deliver to a marked area for each packing station.
  • Replace plastic packaging with paper or card where practical.


  • In most warehouse environments, floorspace is typically limited and used flexibly which is especially challenging when introducing social distancing. 
  • If normal operations include secondary sort or consolidation activities, ensure that these fit within clearly marked work zones. 
  • Adapt the flow and layout of handover / marshalling areas to adhere to social distancing measures. 
  • Create flexible zones suited to large or smaller orders to achieve greatest space utilisation
  • If zone picking (in place of full order picks) is a new way of working, reduce the need for consolidation by using consignment consolidation services from parcel and pallet couriers.


  • Limit the need to search for marshalled orders, create easily identifiable marshalling zones and book orders to these; a simple spreadsheet, saved to the cloud, accessible on several mobile devices will suffice. 
  • Where possible marshal in longer rows which naturally divide the drop zone from the pickup area
  • Assign colleagues to work only in specific zones to avoid crossing of paths and a lapse in social distancing measures.