About the organisation
Hutchison Ports Port of Felixstowe is Britain’s biggest and busiest container port. One of the largest in Europe, it is part of Hutchison Ports’ global network. The port’s 2,500 employees handle 40% of all UK container trade. Goods are dispatched all over the country by road, coastal shipping or one of the 33 scheduled freight train services that operate each day from the port.
What challenges were you trying to address?
Many vital supply chains, including for food and medical equipment, rely upon the port. Modern supply chains are often based on just-in-time philosophies and delays can be very damaging.
The overriding challenge was ensuring that trade was able to continue to flow uninterrupted in an uncertain and rapidly evolving situation whilst ensuring that our workforce was kept safe at all times.
Ports are complex organisms with multiple inter-dependent processes and a mix of offices, workshops, warehouses and a number of different items of plant, all of which have unique characteristics. The challenge of identifying and implementing appropriate changes to each simultaneously and without impacting a 24/7 operation was significant.
What goals or outcomes did Hutchison Ports want to achieve?
We needed to be able to remain open to keep trade flowing in the national interest while protecting the safety of our workforce and all those using the port. Safeguarding our employees and port users was our priority.
What was your solution?
The port has a comprehensive set of emergency plans in place which provided a solid base to guide the response.
We introduced a clear command structure headed by a Coronavirus Steering Group, chaired by the CEO and with input from other Exec and key functional heads, to direct the response. This ensured quick decision making and top-level oversight of implementation.
Through this structure, we published clear internal guidelines and procedures, ensured consistent enforcement, and delivered a regular drumbeat of internal communications to the workforce providing regular business updates and informing them of any new measures coming into effect, to further enhance cleanliness and safety. In most cases we were making decisions and taking action ahead of detailed government guidance but maintained a close liaison with relevant government departments, agencies and ministers throughout. Involvement with the Local Resilience Forum was instrumental in getting early access to testing for our key workers.
We made over 50 separate changes to the way we operate, including reorganising quayside staff into segregated teams, enabling home working where practical, introducing enhanced cleaning/hygiene routines, wearing face masks and implementing a suite of measures to enable two metre social distancing throughout the port.
Finally, we increased the level of welfare support to our employees, including regular calls to those self-isolating or working from home recognising the personal impact this could have on mental health and wellbeing.
Identifying and implementing the appropriate measures to ensure the safety of our workforce without impacting a 24/7 operation was a significant challenge. Building on our existing emergency planning procedures, and with support from across the company, we were able to respond quickly to what was a rapidly evolving situation.— Nick Luck, HR Director, Hutchison Ports UK
How did you roll out your approach?
Our solutions were informed by our emergency planning procedures, and these were key in being able to deploy a range of solutions quickly. We were however dealing with an evolving situation, which meant that measures also evolved, or new ones were introduced, as circumstances changed.
The role of procurement was pivotal to ensure that we had the supplies that we needed, particularly around PPE, hand sanitisers, and cleaning products which were essential parts of our solution to keep our workforce safe.
What have the results been?
The result is that we’ve been able to remain open and fully operational throughout the crisis. Our workforce continues to ensure that we deliver for our customers throughout the pandemic on both quayside and landside operations. By responding rapidly to the evolving crisis and drawing on our emergency planning protocols we have been able to ensure they do so safely and in a way that protects their own health.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
Start planning well before you have a crisis! Every crisis is unique and requires a bespoke solution, but a robust and well-tested set of emergency plans are essential for a rapid and effective response.
It needs to be led from the very top of the organisation, but you cannot do it all on your own. Don’t wait until you need them to try and build a relationship with the partners that are going to help you through the crisis. This applies to government and its agencies as well as your usual suppliers and customers.
Finally, your people are your route out. Trust them, empower them, communicate with them and, most importantly, listen to them.