Lately, all the commentary about Covid19’s impact on our sector seems to be focussed on supply-chain resilience. Rather than the lean ‘just in time’ inventory models of the past, stocking strategies are being redesigned to weather shocks. Businesses are decentralising to mitigate the risk of disruption by spreading out their stock across the globe in multiple geographical locations, in the hope that log-jams exacerbated by forecast inaccuracy might not happen everywhere at the same time. Others are simply holding more stock, because working capital is relatively affordable thanks to low worldwide interest rates and compared to this, the risk of high-profile service failures is not tolerable. Here in the UK, despite record growth in the warehousing market, there is no sign of demand for space reducing.

But what about the human factors? When Covid19 infection rates were steadily declining at the start of 2021, there was cause for cautious optimism, but as we head towards another muted Christmas, some people are more fearful about the pandemic now, than they were back then. And, in warehouses across the UK, they are exhausted: tired out by the constant juggling act of managing conflicting demands in the face of misleading demand forecasts, uncertain transport operations, labour shortages and the daily threat that someone else will contract Covid19 and won’t be coming in for the next couple of weeks.

Many adults in the UK workforce are becoming eligible for booster jabs to maintain protection against transmission and limit Covid19 symptoms. According to government data, however, rates of first and second vaccination doses still remain lower than average amongst warehouse staff. The so-called “unskilled workers” demographic is a key target for vaccination campaigns this winter. Companies may question the ethics of encouraging their workers to get vaccinated – after all, autonomy over your own body and immune system is a matter of personal choice. But what if shift patterns, travel arrangements or other practicalities are putting people off? As businesses relax their workplace restrictions, vaccination of staff is one of the best ways to stave off the disruption of an outbreak, which could decimate the workforce and put more pressure on those who don’t get sick. It makes business sense to remind people it’s still not too late to get started with a first vaccination.

As well as redesigning our stocking strategies, Covid19 has presented us with an opportunity to rethink how employers support the wellbeing of their staff. And in that context, surely it’s not too much to ask, for businesses to make vaccination take-up as easy as possible for ‘hard-to-reach’ citizens, so we all play our part in keeping everyone safe.

Clare Bottle


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