– After the rush of demand in March, the cold chain is now seeing the next phase of the impacts of restrictions.
– Although parts of the food chain are still very busy (notably home deliveries), large swathes of the food business are in hibernation and this means significantly reduced demand for many cold chain businesses. Our expectation remains that as we see continued inflow into storage from food growers, processers and imports, but lower demand from customers, cold stores will get full.
Cold chain employees
– There are currently absentee rates of around 10-15% in manufacturing, retail and distribution roles (some due to illness, some due to self-isolation, and some due to other needs such as childcare), and 5% in transport.
– It is now clear from Government that businesses can rotate furloughed staff (but each furlough period must last a minimum furlough of 3 weeks). This could become important if staff still working in cold chain businesses need to remove themselves from the workforce to self-isolate, as furloughed workers could be brought back into operations after 3 weeks of their furlough has been completed.
– The Cabinet Office has issued a notice requiring public sector customers to pay contractors as if they were delivering goods as per the 3 months prior to Covid-19 restrictions. This will apply to many cold chain businesses supplying schools etc. For some, this Cabinet Office notice could reduce the number of staff needing to be furloughed.
– If challenged about key worker status, cold chain businesses’ workforces can use a Cold Chain Federation letter to help confirm their status as key worker.
Keeping cold stores operating
– Maintenance and compliance activity (eg pressure systems checks) is still essential to keep cold chain businesses running smoothly and safely, with maintenance firms taking steps for social distancing and where possible monitoring operations remotely to reduce the need for activity on site.
– Government is expected to consider next week whether the extension of drivers hours in place since 23rd March should continue past 21st April. Although industry generally doesn’t need to use the extensions right now after the rush of 2 weeks ago has calmed, the Cold Chain Federation is reminding Government that we will need to be ready for the uplift when the lockdown ends.
Cold stores are taking a number of measures including:
– Banning all non-essential visitors on site
– Clear regular communications to staff on how to social distance and remind them to keep up with personal hygiene advice eg hand washing
– Regular cleaning to high contact surfaces
– Where possible reducing the number of people on shifts and packing lines
– Staggered start and finish times, and break times, to avoid people naturally congregating
PPE and testing needs in the sector
– Public Health England does not recommend use of PPE specifically for preventing coronavirus infections outside of healthcare settings.
– Government is asking the industry for intelligence about particular work roles that the industry thinks should be a priority when immunity testing is available, although we are not expecting this to be part of the mix for at least a month.