Published August 4th, 2020
The Current Reality of Freight and Shipping
Pandemic or not, the freight and shipping industry has always been one of the most important industries in the world simply because of its nature. It facilitates trade and commerce worldwide, ensuring that local and overseas demands are met. Freight and shipping contributes to economic growth by making foreign trade possible and affordable.
Today, as we experience what may be the height of the pandemic, the freight and shipping industry is suffering some of the worst losses in history due to the combination of decreased product demand, a weakened production work force, and quarantine initiatives around the world causing inevitable delays in shipments and delivery. As companies in the freight and shipping industry attempt to operate under modified restrictions, certain precautions need to be taken into consideration to keep workers and customers safe from the deadly coronavirus.
Challenges of Freight and Shipping Operation Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
In spite of the difficulties faced by the industry, the world’s economy cannot afford a complete stoppage to their operations. Below are some reopening challenges freight and shipping operators may face, including some safety tips to prevent COVID-19 transmissions during operations
Seafarers may be quarantined
When crew members are repatriated after performing their duties, they may be quarantined at ports for safety and compliance purposes. Employers must ensure that they provide the necessary support to their seafarers by coordinating with authorities to prevent unnecessary delays for the release of their workers.
Shortage of crew members
Crew shortage may be caused by two things; personnel are physically incapable of reporting to work because they have contracted COVID-19, or they are unwilling to perform work duties for fear of catching it. Maritime transportation workers are considered “essential workers” which means they are generally expected to report to work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even essential workers have several rights, one of which is covered by the OSH Act, which allow them to refuse work if they:
- have a specific fear of infection based on fact instead of a general fear of COVID-19; or
- if the employer is unable to address the employee’s fear by providing safety measures against the contracting COVID-19 at work.
The perceived obligation of essential workers to report for duty, as well as each worker’s right to protect their own health can be a slippery slope. Nevertheless, employers would do well not to resort to threats, but instead focus on making work conditions as safe as possible to help employees become more comfortable with reporting to work in spite of COVID-19.
Inevitable delays in shipments and deliveries
The COVID-19 pandemic slows operations down by limiting available workers and necessitating special safety measures e.g. a 14 day port quarantine for shipping crews, among others.This causes a massive backlog of shipments and deliveries for the freight and shipping industry. Operators need to be honest in their estimates and communicate the expected time frame for delays to their clients so they can set proper expectations for their customers regarding turnaround times.
Possible COVID-19 transmissions at work
In spite of stringent safety measures to prevent crew infection, the risk cannot be completely eliminated and the possibility of contracting COVID-19 is everpresent. When a crew member starts showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection on board, freight crews must have an isolated cabin for the suspected carrier to minimize their chances of accidentally infecting their colleagues.
Keeping Your Crew as Safe as Possible
Since halting operations is simply not an option considering the industry’s importance, freight and shipping operators owe it to themselves and their workers to exercise all possible safety measures to minimize the chances of COVID-19 transmissions in the line of duty:
Ensure that sanitary supplies are regularly restocked
Listed below are the most essential sanitary supplies freight and shipping workers should always have to protect themselves from COVID-19:
- N95 respirators, surgical masks, or home made cloth masks all offer a degree of protection from COVID-19. Wearing a mask prevents unknowing carriers from spreading the virus, and to a lesser degree, also protects healthy individuals from catching it.
- Soap and water is one of the easiest and most effective ways one can stave off COVID-19 infections. Workers and crew must wash their hands thoroughly with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds.
- Disinfectant gels and antiseptics must have at least 70% alcohol solution to kill most types of germs and viruses, including COVID-19.
Be vigilant and check on worker’s health regularly
Health officers on board a vessel should perform daily health checks on workers, looking out for common symptoms such as a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Using a digital COVID-19 checklist could help streamline health assessments and documentation for record-keeping purposes.
Encourage honesty among workers regarding their health
Since quick daily health checks are far from perfect, employers should encourage workers to be honest about the status of their health. Workers should be proactive and inform their superiors if they are feeling unwell, especially if they manifest the common symptoms of COVID-19 infection so that they can be excused from work to prevent potential transmission.
Minimize the seafarers, port staff, and workers to lower the chances of COVID-19 transmission
Utilize skeletal staffing to make social distancing easier to implement. Workers must keep a distance of 2 meters (6 feet) from each other as much as possible, and a policy of eliminating unnecessary physical contact must be implemented.
Using Mobile Technology to Assist Reopening Initiatives
To assist freight and shipping operators with their safe resumption initiatives, iAuditor by SafetyCulture offers free, ready-to-use digital checklists to guide safety practices and keep workers healthy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disclaimer: Please note that these checklists are hypothetical examples and provide basic information only. They are not intended to take the place of medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should also seek professional advice to determine if the use of such checklists are permissible in your workplace or jurisdiction.
Featured Freight and Shipping Resumption Checklist
COVID-19 Safety Checklist for Seafarers (ICS)
This COVID-19 Safety Checklist for Seafarers is based off of the International Chamber of Shipping’s (ICS) ship operator guide. This is designed to help ship operators follow advice provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).