As we continue to navigate the many challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's essential to ensure that our employees are safe and our profits protected. We asked loss prevention expert and former Head of Loss Prevention at Next plc, Colin Culleton, for his thoughts on how the pandemic has changed security operations within distribution centres and how we overcome these new challenges.
Q: How do you think COVID-19 has changed security operations within distribution centres today?
A: For even the most effective distribution centre security operations, as a result of COVID-19, there will have been some level of compromise in normal controls. Some will be mandatory requirements and some will be business specific, but they will definitely have increased the opportunities for staff theft.
Security teams have also fulfilled more of a health and safety role during the last few months and many will be more engaged with the core business operations than they may previously have been.
Q: What do you see as the 3 main security challenges for distribution centres right now?
A: Firstly, managing the transition back to an effective security function. With many of the essential but unpopular control measures being reintroduced - access control, electronic gates, and the essential search procedures all being reinstated.
Secondly, reintroducing effective staff searching whilst ensuring staff safety. Even with reduced social distancing guidelines, distribution centre staff are not going to be comfortable with physical searching.
Thirdly, will be re-evaluating what the hot products are from a staff theft risk perspective. The pandemic may have changed the need and desire for certain products, so desirable, luxury and branded products may have been replaced with more essential commodity items.
Q:How should loss prevention managers be adapting security operations to overcome these challenges?
A: These will differ across different businesses, but my recommendations for loss prevention managers would be:
Firstly, relaunch or reinvigorate confidential hotlines. All staff will be worried about business sustainability and job losses and may be more inclined to report theft by colleagues.
When thinking about investment in technology, plan for the long term and prioritise solutions that will deliver sustainable benefits. Also, consider what will be critical if similar circumstances happen.
Thirdly, and really important from my perspective, is the need to invest in safe distance people screening technology that will remove all physical contact in staff search procedures.
Q: Whilst you don't have a crystal ball, what possible challenges do you foresee in the future?
A: The biggest challenge will be for loss prevention departments to transition from the different approach they have had to adopt during this pandemic. They have had to increase their 'soft skills' considerably, and support work practises that have the warehouse operatives safety and welfare at the centre. This doesn't fit naturally with the control environment they are normally required to implement. Therefore, a return to essential security processes will be required, but the empathy, speed and communication of this will be critical to success.
Q: How important is technology in the security environment?
A: Technology is not only critical to the performance of modern loss prevention functions, but is essential to the job satisfaction, development and retention of good loss prevention staff.
For many years, there's been significant investment in warehouse and distribution technology; from automation in fulfilment, IT systems and transportation, while loss prevention was often underfunded.
Forward thinking businesses looking to get a greater return from their loss prevention staff are recognising that investment in CCTV, incident reporting via smartphones and most importantly, safe distance people screening, all help to improve the performance of their loss prevention teams.
Click here for more information about how Thruvision safe distance people screening technology can help distribution centres to safely and effectively reduce staff theft.
Colin Culleton is former Head of Loss Prevention at Next Plc and Risk Management and Loss Prevention Consultant. Read more about Colin here.