In this article we interviewed Ermanno Gianelli, Health Safety and Environment Manager of La Spezia Container Terminal, to understand the impact brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the actions taken by the terminal to cope with the emergency.
How did you manage the pandemic outbreak?
EG: Initially, at the beginning of 2020, we started to hear the news about a new virus coming from the Far East which forced us to examine how best to manage the crews of ships arriving in LSCT that will have called at a number of ports in China.
According to the guidance issued by the Port Authority, the personnel on board were not allowed to disembark from their ships. They were required to wait on board for the maritime health authority to carry out a medical check-up.
In the early days of the pandemic, such arrangement only applied to ships from Asia. After a few weeks, however, when Italy reported its first case, we had to start carrying out COVID-19 safety measures within the terminal premises.
At that point, even truck drivers from different parts of Italy, who entered the premises and were in close contact with our employees, could potentially trigger the outbreak.
Right at that time, coincidentally, we were managing copper traffic from a company located in Codogno (the first Italian hotspot), therefore we had to take immediate actions to protect our business and our operational staff.
What actions did you take to tackle the crisis?
EG: At the beginning we had to rely on common sense. While diligently following the guidelines issued by the competent authorities, we went the extra mile even increasing defense and monitoring actions. In just a few weeks the epidemic spread throughout the country like a wildfire and, without specific protocol readily available for companies, we took steps to promptly source the essential equipment (masks, disinfectants, etc.) needed to help mitigate the risk of contagion, despite the difficulty in getting hold of the supplies.
Over 600 employees work within LSCT, which made it necessary to immediately identify the tasks with the highest risk of contracting the virus and prioritize the delivery of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
Furthermore, we have tried to reduce personal contact, even in the context of normal terminal activities. For example, we quickly moved the face to face documents exchange that were usually done on board between maritime officers to electronic communication only.
Once the official protocols and guidelines for companies were issued by the authorities, we set up a COVID-19 management committee dedicated to the pandemic emergency, joined by an experienced doctor and representatives of trade unions. The committee met each week (and still does periodically) to monitor the risks, identifying useful actions and communicating them internally to employees and to all LSCT suppliers.
In close collaboration with other subsidiaries of the Contship Italia Group, after facing shortages of medical supplies in the first few months, we were able to source face masks in large quantities, from mostly overseas, while overcoming hurdles related to equipment certification.
At the same time, we also needed to reorganizing workplace: we realized the need to ensure greater social distancing within the offices. We adopted smart working for all functions that can work remotely (primarily the administrative offices). We have therefore reorganized and adjusted spacing in workstations for our colleagues working in the premises, optimizing the space, and introducing plexiglas dividers between the workstations.
In the yard areas, we separated the inflow and outflow of personnel. We have also staggered the workhours for each shift, especially during the peak hours, and it was deemed necessary to close the changing rooms, normally used by forecourt operators.
In addition, to avoid crowding during entry and exit time, we have also increased the number of stampers and we have placed them in different areas of the terminal.
As far as sanitation measures are concerned, that’s another story.
We collected a large quantity of disinfectants, latex gloves and cleaning materials into the warehouse, but then we also came up with our own initiatives, such as converting the cannon, which is usually used to spray water when powdery material is unloaded from ships, into nebulized disinfectant spray and placed them in every corner of the terminal (which covers over 300,000 square meters).
Furthermore, we ensured a continuous sanitization process for our vehicles, which could not be done by external companies (due to H24 shifts), to provide our operators with cleaning kits, which include disinfectants to sanitize the surfaces of the vehicle, sanitizing gels for the hands and paper rolls for cleaning.
By doing so, and with the consent of trade union representatives, the operators were able to autonomously sanitize their workplace before providing services, and we made sure sanitizers were readily available for all events. This initiative has proved to be very effective in making staff feel protected and, at the same time, empowered.
In addition to improving personal hygiene, we have appointed an external company to carry out sanitization with special equipment, both in offices and in operating vehicles, on a weekly basis.
We have also increased the regular daily cleaning frequency of premises, especially in multi-purpose areas (changing rooms, shift change areas, refreshment areas, etc.).
To complete the picture relating to prevention, all the Contship Italia Group subsidiaries have carried out some free rapid swab campaigns for employees, especially after returning from summer and Christmas breaks.
As for contact tracing, despite the initial confusion, we were able to collaborate with ASL to have a contact tracing reference number.
Finally, we have activated an internal toll-free number to provide assistance and advice to our employees if they have any doubt or request regarding emergency situation.
It is also worth noting that, together with the other companies of the Contship Italia Group, we immediately enhanced our insurance coverage to protect employees in case of hospitalization.
Although the emergency is still ongoing, what are the lessons learnt? How effective are measures?
EG: Overall, I can say that, in recent months, we have experienced two major phases: the first phase is to establish a business and employee protection mechanism and the second phase, which we are still exploring, on how we should manage and maintain our set-up.
In general, I am very satisfied with our low infection rate: out of 620 employees in our Group, we only had 34 cases, accounting for 5% of the total employment. I could say that we successfully managed the potential outbreak within the company.
This is an excellent result and I would like to attribute this to our own employees and would like to personally thank them.
Yard operators and office staff not only acted responsibly in adopting healthy and safe behaviors, they also took up extra duties (especially the forecourt operators).
In fact, together with the introduction of the temperature check and surveillance officers, staff collaborate and take turns to verify the anti-contagion measures compliance (e.g. absence of gatherings, number of people in the changing rooms, correct use of masks, etc.).
In this context, we have also created new tasks within the terminal, such as the internal sanitizing team, and equipped them with a specific machine that was strategically purchased for this.
There are staff in force who, as part of the shift rotation, have been assigned to these activities and implemented them with commitment and dedication.
Finally, to conclude, I was able to appreciate the solidarity and collaboration that we have experienced in last months with all the institutional bodies, ranging from the Port Authority, Harbor Master's Office to trade union representatives, and even some of our competitors, we had the opportunity to exchange ideas and share best practices with them, with the ultimate and shared goal of protecting our people and overcoming this global crisis.