We thought we had a fairly clear idea of what supply chain security was all about until Sept. 11, 2001. On that terrible day, we awoke to the nightmare that terrorists could exploit our transportation system, using jetliners as weapons of destruction. —And as we've learned from the Oklahoma City bombings and Madrid tragedy, it's not just planes that can be turned into lethal weapons, but trucks and trains as well.
But as we debate how best to "harden" the nation's transportation system, we sometimes forget that there's more to supply chain security than foiling terrorists. There are still plenty of challenges for us right here at home protecting our DCs, the people who work in them, and the products they house. What follows are some tips for keeping your people, property and products safe.
Someone to watch over them
As you might expect, workplace injuries pose a bigger threat to DC workers' safety than terrorists. What you might not realize is which workers are most at risk. Despite what you'd think, it's not the new and inexperienced ones who are most vulnerable. Federal studies have shown that workers with five or more years' experience are more likely to be injured on the job. Experienced workers often become careless, and carelessness leads to accidents.
To address that problem, some DCs have set up job rotation systems. Workers who change tasks every few hours are less likely to become bored than those who do the same thing all day long. Rotation also reduces the likelihood of injuries due to repetitive motion.
DC workers are also at elevated risk of injuries caused by strain. Tasks like order picking may seem much safer than, say, loading trucks, but they actually account for a large share of injuries because they can force workers into awkward postures.
To reduce the risk of injury, carefully plan out the arrangement of stock in your DC, paying particular attention to ergonomics. The fastest-moving items should always be stored in the "Golden Zone," the space between the average worker's belt and shoulder height. It's equally important to provide proper training. Before you send anyone out onto the floor, be sure to show him or her the best and safest way to pick.
Though people are oftentimes reluctant to address it, another widespread problem is employee substance abuse. An estimated 10 percent of all people in the work force have a substance abuse problem, and impaired DC workers can pose a safety threat to co-workers. No DC should be without a prevention program. That program should include a published policy, screening for all new hires, training for supervisors and managers, and a rehabilitation program.
When it comes to protecting property, your focus will be less on prevention than on containing the damage. High winds, floods, earthquakes and lightning strikes will remain forever outside our control—as will more mundane disasters like power failures.
But you can take steps to mitigate the damage. Some DCs, for example, have installed emergency generators that provide sufficient power to maintain computer operations and at least partial illumination in the buildings in the event of a power loss.
Two of the best ways to control casualty risks are to buy insurance and to seek professional advice. The more progressive insurance companies have ongoing loss-prevention research and development programs and can provide counsel. Many offer inspection services as well.
Like people and property, products must be kept safe. And their safety is not always easy to ensure. Whether raw materials or finished goods, products face a variety of threats: damage, theft and deterioration among them.
Much of the time, damage to goods occurs in transit (generally due to mishandling of the cargo), but products can also sustain damage just sitting on a shelf in a DC. That's particularly true if the products being stored are subject to deterioration due to age, chemical reactions, biological changes or improper temperature control. If your products fall into one of those categories, make sure you have the proper monitoring systems in place.
Another big problem is theft. At one time or another, most warehouses will experience pilferage (theft of small amounts over an extended period). Typically, pilferage is the result of collusion, usually between a warehouse employee and a truck driver. This is the most difficult type of theft to detect and control, since no one has yet devised a 100-percent failsafe electronic or paper tracking system.
Obviously, the best way to reduce the risk of theft is to hire only honest workers. But how do you do that? One option is to hire a psychological testing service that screens out candidates with larcenous tendencies. Another deterrent is to conduct random detailed checks of outbound loads. A third method is the undercover investigation. Detective agencies and some specialist consultants provide undercover services. The investigator poses as an ordinary employee and tries to blend in with the crowd in order to monitor operations from the inside. This is a delicate and dangerous undertaking that requires complete confidentiality.
When hacking is not a cough but a crime
The Information Age has given rise to a new, and potentially catastrophic, security risk—the threat that your vital data will be compromised. Skilled and tenacious hackers can access mission-critical information about customers, suppliers, accounts, products and employees.
These info tech security breaches are just as dangerous as any physical security breach. Both preventive countermeasures and reactive forensic computer specialists are vital weapons against this spreading threat.
It's a scary ol' world out there, and it's getting scarier. Today's managers face some tough choices. Relax security too much and you could compromise your operation. Tighten security too much and you risk choking off the vital flow of commerce. Think hard about the nature of each threat to your DC and its likelihood. The last thing you want to become is your own worst enemy.