Expert opinion

Preparation and partnership during a crisis

15 May 2020

Each incident and crisis is different – it can be confined to a small location, a city, a vessel, a state. It can be weather-related or technical. None has been so large and consuming as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, every incident prior has prepared the Maersk teams for what they are currently working through.

On a daily basis, Tom Weisberg and his team are focused on safety precautions for terminals, warehouses, even office spaces. They work through environmental legislation that may have an impact to working environments. They look at security of the terminals.

Today we speak with Tom Weisberg, the Head of Health, Safety, Security, and Environment, as well as incident management and business continuity management here at Maersk in North America. 

Tom, can you tell us what your role covers on a normal day? 

The health, safety, security and environment team is primarily concerned with the health of our organization, our employees, our facilities. We look at air quality, ergonomics, facility layout, lighting, etc. We deal with our facilities and their leadership teams on safety issues. We conduct training, whether in a warehouse or another facility, such as forklift training or hazardous training. We look at inspections of facilities to make sure that they are safe. We look at incidents and conduct analysis and investigations on incidents and accidents and try to find the root cause of why it happened, and deal with our facility partners in leadership to make sure that we find the cure and how to reduce these incidents. Are we in compliance with local, state and federal guidelines and OSHA guidelines? What kind of security do we have? Live guards, cameras and what technology do we utilize?

On the environment side, we're always looking at how do we reduce our emissions in our inland network. How can we cut the use of diesel fuel and look at new technology, such as electric technology to run equipment? We’re also looking at how do we handle a big initiative of our company to decarbonize logistics and by 2050. What fuels do we use on our vessels? 

On a normal day we're working on all those projects on how to keep our facilities and our people safe and secure in looking at the environment. On a not normal day, you could say in the incident management business continuity world, we're looking at how do we deal with hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, pieces of the operation that are shut down for fires or one incident. And how do we deal with our commercial teams, operational groups, or our customers to make sure that business can continue? We prepare for those incidents. So that's us on a normal day. 

We know how much preparedness goes into incident management. Can you tell us a bit more about what's going on in these past weeks? 

The past weeks have been an incredible experience for not just the Maersk team, but the world. Only 2 months ago we started to look at how do we work from home. We partnered with teams throughout the company on bandwidth and VPN circuits. Making sure that we could work from home, service our customers, continue to move the cargo and communicate, that was a big part. 

When we got home, how do we make sure everybody's safe? How do we support the social distancing guidelines when they come out? What protective personal protective equipment should be utilized? 

We thank everybody on the frontline in the warehouse and distribution centers, our trucking companies, owner operators and at the marine terminals and of course on board our vessels. These colleagues have done a fantastic job of continuing to operate with very minimal instances of delays, and they really take on the social distancing and use the right equipment making sure that people are safe. 

It hasn't gone without some incidents. We've had some incidents where we've had COVID cases, but they've been dealt with very professionally, and very quick investigations. We've deep cleaned facilities, making sure everybody is safe, and we were able to link back to where people were, who they spoke to - following the procedures that were created to deal with the safety issues of operations during the COVID-19 response. 

You mentioned servicing our customers and how that plays a huge role in our everyday business. Can you talk a little bit more about how incident management plays that role for customers? 

It was very apparent when COVID-19 really started to gain steam and people started to work from home. There were questions about how facilities will remain open. What happens if somebody gets COVID-19, if there's a positive case? We really looked at our business continuity plans and quite frankly we rewrote a lot of them. There were things that we didn't have before. What kind of cleaning are we going to do in a facility? What kind of gear do we have to make sure are in facilities?

And how do we talk with our customers? Our customers really wanted to know “what is your business continuity? How are you going to keep facilities open? And if you do have an incident, what do you do?” 

There were cases with major retailers where we had some incidents at our facility, but we got on the phone and communicated directly and very quickly. We went through what happened and what are the procedures for cleaning. They were able to ask questions and they were able to also look at their supply chains and sit there and say "OK if we had to have this facility shut down for a period of time, what would happen?". Also, the safety of their cargo, what was touching cargo or  touching cardboard? Was it a real incident? We had to take the best CDC guidelines and federal, state and local health officials to determine how safe is the cargo and how safe with the employee. We really partnered a lot with our customers during those early times, in particular, when we were all learning of how to deal with this new threat.  

The partnership and transparency that I've seen actually from the frontline sales teams, the warehouse, the operations teams have been phenomenal. I think I've never seen an orchestra work so well together in times of crisis, so I think that's vitally, directed at you and your team in terms of the preparation. 

Given your experience, what does our recovery plan start to look like in the weeks or months ahead? 

As everyone can see every day, everything changes. New states issue new guidelines. There's different health mandates and recommendations, so we try to take a look at all of these. It can't be a blanket approach. One policy and procedure that's good for one area of the country, will not be good for another area in the country. We're looking at all the different areas, all the different facilities. What's the status that's on the ground at that particular time? What are the local federal and state recommendations, laws and mandates at that time? 

We're in the process of making a plan, a phased plan, and we need to also take a look at the big issue of health care.  How do we look at our employees’ health?  Are they in good health? Are they taking care of family members that may have the virus and also childcare? I believe almost every school district is closed and will be to the end of the year.

How do we make a phased approach where we know it's OK for employees to go back to the facility to work? We look at all the other factors of childcare, health issues and families. And quite frankly, we have shown that we have efficiently worked from home. We have created that whole virtual office that works very well. All these things are being looked at to make a plan, but the most important part of the plan is the safety of everyone. The safety of our employees, the safety of our customers, cargo and making sure that we are in compliance with the best data from federal, state and local governments so we can open.

We will open when it's the best time and it's safe. That's our primary concern.

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