Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Adapting to COVID-19: Our shipping community shows it can be done

Published:Tuesday | November 17, 2020 | 12:05 AM
Temperature check for all: All are required to have their temperature checked and to wear masks before entering premises on the Port of Kingston.
Temperature check for all: All are required to have their temperature checked and to wear masks before entering premises on the Port of Kingston.

One objective has remained paramount for Jamaica’s shipping industry from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is this: protecting the health of staff and customers while keeping the supply chain operational so that essential goods – food, medicine, life-saving equipment for hospitals, electricity generation – can continue to be delivered.

For the past nine months, the shipping community has been providing an example of how strict observance of the Government’s health protocol can be successfully implemented in the work environment. The ordinary and associate members of the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ) have been adhering to, and even going beyond, the government guidelines to ensure the safety of staff and customers while maintaining efficient service delivery. Those 79 members represent the major stakeholders in local shipping – shipping agents, agents of non-vessel operating common carriers, freight forwarders, trucking companies, and warehouse operators.

There is a system to success, and the shipping community was quick to implement a four-pronged, systematic approach comprising information and education, provision of equipment and supplies, timely implementation of appropriate processes and procedures, and continuous monitoring and improvement where necessary.

INFORMATION AND EDUCATION

Information and education are the empowering components that determine the attitudes of staff and customers to the pandemic. Early in the outbreak, the SAJ carried out a COVID-19 Compliance Audit to ascertain the level of compliance of member companies and tenants to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers in accordance with the Government of Jamaica’s Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Order 2020 to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The audit laid a solid foundation for ongoing information and education. It was carried out by the SAJ’s occupational health officer, Nurse Deanmarie White, and included the completion of a detailed questionnaire along with an onsite tour of the facilities to examine the cleaning and personal protective equipment in use, the preparation of isolation room(s), and to observe actual procedures and practices.

Communication plans were examined and discussed during the audit and follow-up assistance was provided in areas such as the formation of crisis-management teams; developing a written response plan; placement of signs, posters, markers, and notices; and open channels of communication within the workplace, with customers, with industry partners, and with government health authorities.

Months after the onset of the pandemic, member companies have not dropped their guard and have been making current updates available to all workers and visitors and have been placing posters and signage in clearly visible areas, advising staff and visitors of updated information on COVID- 19.

PROVISION OF EQUIPMENT, SUPPLIES

Members of Jamaica’s shipping community acted immediately to issue masks to members of staff, provide hand sanitisers and hand-sanitising stations, security personnel with non-contact temperature-assessment devices, and upgrade the supplies necessary to enhance cleaning schedules to include regular deep-cleaning of public areas, offices, and workstations.

Another study conducted by the SAJ among its members found that all are experiencing higher costs of operations incurred by additional purchases of supplies necessary to keep the work environment safe and sanitised. These expenses are considered to be worthwhile and essential for shipping entities to continue providing the services that address the vital needs of Jamaican families and businesses.

PRACTICES AND PROCESSES

Shipping companies, including the two major terminals at the Port of Kingston – Kingston Wharves Limited (KWL) and Kingston Freeport Terminals Limited – were quick to adjust operational and customer service processes to protect the health of all parties.

KWL, for example, activated its business-continuity plan to facilitate the ongoing effective functioning of the port terminal and logistic centres as critical channels for the movement of essential cargo, including food and medical supplies. The plan is supported by technology to facilitate digital transactions by customers and to allow team members to work remotely on flexi-time. An appointment system for all customers, including those citizens who rely on less-than-container-load incoming cargo, such as barrels, was also implemented to avoid any congestion of customers.

Social distancing is one of the crucial measures that guide processes and practices in this new environment. There are a number of measures that shipping companies are taking to ensure that social distancing is adhered to such as markers on the floors to indicate the spacing between each person while they wait in line and the rearranging of offices to ensure the required spacing/distancing as recommended by the Government.

Members of the shipping community are also implementing social distancing through alternative work arrangements such as facilitating remote work and shift work in teams. One useful measure being incorporated is arranging for team members to not be interchangeable between teams in order to prevent cross-infection of teams should one member become infected.

With regard to the work of stevedores at the Port of Kingston, since 2008, the SAJ has been using the ADVANTUM e-Labour Telephone Recruiting System, which does not require stevedores to congregate at a dispatch hall as currently exists at many ports in the world.

The SAJ employs and manages 340 stevedores who possess varying types of skills and who are deployed electronically to the terminals operating at Port Bustamante each day, using cutting-edge technology provided by ADVANTUM.

CONTINUOUS MONITORING AND IMPROVEMENT

Our current historical period is unprecedented, and this is an evolving situation that requires close monitoring and appropriate adjustments. Shipping’s industry partners are cognisant of the extreme reliance that their country places on them to deliver. Hence, member companies of the SAJ are constantly taking initiatives to put in place their own strategies to ensure continuity of their business in the face of the threats posed by the virus.

The SAJ continues to monitor the situation and provide additional guidance as it develops. The organisation’s board has established a team to give oversight to the mitigation and response efforts and to learn from the effects of the coronavirus on the industry as a means of strengthening responses to future threats.