Pallet companies continue to shoulder the load as COVID-19 crisis spreads

This story appeared in the March 2020 issue of Western Pallet Magazine.

With Washington, Oregon and California following federal guidelines regarding the critical status of pallet provision, West coast pallet companies are reporting volumes ranging from business as normal to very high, based on conversations with WPA-members from March 24 to March 30, 2020.  Some companies are reporting softness in non-grocery markets being compensated by busier than normal in grocery.

Oxnard Pallet, like other companies contacted, reported that their company is still operating at full swing. According to WPA president Beatrice Vasquez of Oxnard Pallet, the company has taken several steps to increase worker safety, starting with employee safety awareness meetings and training. Safety steps taken include maintaining 6-foot distances, frequent washing of hands, staying away from work if employees begin to exhibit any cold or flu symptoms, and keeping all areas clean.

One additional step taken by Oxnard was to provide employees with a special letter confirming that they work for a critical industry. “We are very grateful to be able to continue our business operation,” Vasquez stated.

“As crazy as the situation is right now, it’s remarkable how “normal” things are for us,” Callen Cochran of United Pallet Services reported. “We are operating on a regular schedule, and in fact, business has actually picked up mainly because a lot of our customers are either in or are closely tied to the food industry,” Cochran said.

As with other pallet companies contacted for this article, the Modesto, California-based company has several steps to keep our workers safe, including increased cleaning frequency of restrooms, breakrooms and common touchpoints such as door handles. Employees are asked to stay home and call their doctor if they have flu symptoms. The company has held departmental breakout meetings to discuss COVID-19 and provide safety information. “I would say the main challenge right now is separating fact from fiction and trying to dispel fear,” Cochran said.

Sukhi Brar of Surrey, BC-based Advance Group is a WPA director and current CWPCA president. He was contacted at home, where he is finishing a 14-day self-quarantine period after having traveled out of the country. Like other companies, Advance has taken all of the standard training and safety precautions such as enhanced cleaning, social distancing, and having symptomatic employees stay at home. It is also enforcing self-quarantine for any employees who have left the country – a policy followed by Brar himself as he works from home.

One additional move has been to split up the workforce to take coffee breaks and lunch in smaller groups to facilitate social distancing. Where possible, employees are working from home, and the office is locked and closed to any visitors. The company has also purchased a handheld temperature gun to help it easily clarify if a worker might be running a fever.

Brar emphasized the importance of ongoing communication with employees as well as customers and providers. Advance has translated key information into other languages such as Punjabi and Spanish to help employees better understand the required safety procedures. “The main thing is communication,” Brar concluded. “We are all in this together.”

Meanwhile, Oregon Pallet reports that it is extremely busy meeting the needs of a key food industry client. The company is working 10 hour days and six days a week to try to get ahead of demand, reported Carly Taylor of the Salem, Oregon-based company. The company runs multiple onsite operations and has had to increase staffing levels at all locations in response to increased activity. Some locations, such as in Arizona, are proving to be more difficult in filling jobs.

As with other companies, Oregon Pallet is following recommended best practices to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Steps include having employees work from home if possible. “If we do lose someone, we don’t want to lose everyone,” Taylor said. The office is locked and drivers must call to have paperwork brought out.

For its part, Oregon Pallet has closed its lunchroom and is having employees eat in their personal vehicles or other distance-appropriate location. It has also adjusted its time and attendance system to minimize the touching of surfaces, relying on supervisors to track hours.

Please note that NWPCA has created a listing of resources to help your company manage the COVID-19 crisis. It is available at this link.

NWPCA also held a COVID-19 webinar. It is available at this link.