While we may never again face the trials the world has encountered over the last several months, the COVID-19 outbreak has taught us numerous lessons about the state of work and the importance of preparing for every eventuality. Among the most cogent lessons for business is the necessity for securing and keeping track of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. While most organizations ordered and used PPE before the pandemic, their orders—and their inventories—likely were minute compared to today. Now, rather than just a few equipment operators and maintenance workers, everyone in the office, field, and factory floor needs to be outfitted with PPE every day. Industrial PPE’s elevated status to a critical, keep-the-lights-on supply chain issue requires companies to change their mindset about how best to source, procure, and use gloves, masks, respirators, face shields, and other wearable virus barriers.
While helping hundreds of companies secure and manage their industrial PPE, SDI has compiled a list of issues, pitfalls, and best practices organizations should be aware of to ensure they can access the equipment they need to keep their workers safe and their operations productive:
In the pre-COVID-19 days, much industrial PPE procurement was merely routine. Supply was hardly an issue, and much of the equipment itself—rubber gloves, sanitizing gel and wipes, plastic face shields, etc.—was cheap enough to leave out for anyone to take when they needed it. Some organizations did not even count these items as MRO supplies, assigning their purchase to office managers rather than HSE or Procurement.
It’s a precious commodity in short supply. So, they must figure out how to get it, allocate it to employees, and track it. Those days are gone. PPE is now an integral part of the inventory management task. It is critical that companies aggressively and actively determine appropriate min/max levels, assign consumption costs to the proper project and department, forecast demand, and nurture supply chains.
Assign a Czar
Proactive PPE supply management requires an ultimate authority, not only for determining how to obtain PPE but also how to distribute it and know where it is going. Everyone in the organization should know that the buck stops with this person or team. They will ensure all employees receive and use the masks, aprons, and other PPE they need to perform their jobs safely and productively.
Lock It Up
PPE, like any other valuable commodity around the office or plant floor, has a way of disappearing if it is not secured and monitored. Gloves and cleaning supplies that have traditionally been left in common and high-traffic areas for anyone to use now should be assigned on an as-needed basis. Waste of these items, given little thought in the past, is now a major concern for CFOs and safety officers. Whether you use a crib, vending machine, or another distribution method, make sure to track usage, limit hoarding, and order early. Security is just as important on the receiving dock. You do not want a box of hand sanitizer or respirators to “fall off the truck.”
Err on the Side of Caution
Especially in these uncertain times, running out of PPE can force you to shut down production. Having too many test kits, facemasks, hazmat suits, and goggles is preferable to stocking out of these critical supplies. Reorder early, conduct spot checks of inventory levels until you or your PPE supply chain service collects sufficient data to establish reliable order triggers. This is what it is paramount to track usage in an ERP or inventory management system to ensure a strategic—rather than transactional—approach to keeping your facility supplied. This will show when and from whom each SKU is purchased so you can track prices, fulfillment time, and shipment receipt. Manage and store PPE inventory in a manner that ensures the oldest stocks are used first. A first-in, first out (FIFO) strategy will reduce waste and guard against obsolescence.
Secure a Redundant Supply of Industrial PPE
Many manufacturers learned a hard lesson during the first months of COVID-19: Do not become exclusively dependent on a single supplier. When global supply chains ground to a near halt, companies discovered their coveted PPE was stranded on docks or backlogged at the factory. Firms should find diversified back-up sources of their most critical equipment. If your main supplier is in China, contract with another source located in Europe or North America that will not be affected by weather or natural disaster in Asia. Make sure to negotiate cost and delivery terms and have them in place before you need them. You will need a team, either recruited internally or contracted externally to investigate each source’s company’s trade laws and customs and develop the buying expertise to guarantee supply and fair prices.
Know What’s at Stake
Of course, the continued safety of your employees and their families is the main reason for securing reliable supplies of industrial PPE, but the benefits extend further:
- Brand image and reputation as a caring, socially responsible place to work
- Competitive advantage by staying open and serving customers
- Compliance with regulations to stay on OSHA’s “nice” list
- Cost savings through favorable contracts and insurance rates
There is too much on the line to leave industrial PPE procurement to chance. If you do not have the in-house resources or don’t want to deal with the hassle and stress of keeping your PPE stocked, outsourcing to a procurement-as-a-service vendor is a viable option. SDI conducts needs reviews, data analysis, risk assessment, and readiness audits for companies of all sizes. We can devise a plan to source the PPE you need and formulate a strategy to minimize your supply risk. We have assisted dozens of firms avert disaster in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; we can do the same for you. Contact our experts for a demonstration of our capabilities.