Caring for our team is always essential work

The COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed a profound change with the way we do business at Coles Group.

Like every business in Australia, we had to pivot our operations to respond to the health crisis, but we also had to ensure we remained steadfast with a duty of care to our team members, our customers and our supply chain partners.

Our immediate realisation was quite a business paradox, where we had to disrupt our operations in order to maintain continuity of grocery supply to our community.

We implemented a range of enhanced safety measures at all of our sites and distribution centres to help our team members and transport partners stay safe while continuing to keep Australians supplied with essential food and groceries.

At DCs this includes an increased frequency of deep cleans, additional cleaning of high-traffic areas, adjustments to shift times to maintain separation between team members, the implementation of ‘shift bubbles’ to further minimise contact between team members, including installation of additional facilities to maintain separation between bubble groups and sanitiser stations and check-in QR codes at all entrances and throughout the facility.

At all times, we have maintained a high level of consultation with our team members, so they were clear on the need for change and our health and safety representatives were instrumental as a key enabler for changes to be embedded effectively.

The term ‘essential worker’ was something that most people in the community would have not profoundly considered until the COVID-19 crisis emerged.

With panic buying occurring and toilet paper flying off shelves, it was abundantly evident that we had a duty to not only ensure the health and safety of our own team, but to also ensure that we were fit to work to supply retail goods to our communities that were going through extreme hardships.

Coles has been working closely with the Federal and State Government to conduct on-site COVID-19 testing and secure priority access to Pfizer vaccines for our distribution centre team members and contracted transport drivers.

Notwithstanding the myriad physical changes in our network, it was crucial that we were aware of the effects that the term ‘essential worker’ had on our own team. Now more than ever, was the time to proactively respond with the proportionate balance of physical and mental health and wellness controls for our team.

This is where we are deploying a range of effective resources aligned with Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds (HHTS).

We have acknowledged the critical importance of social connection and identified that this was one of the many impacts COVID-19 had contributed to with our team members.

Consequently, we initiated a weekly social connection program with free meal vouchers to say ‘thank you’ to the team for their continued support and engagement during these difficult times.

This encourages the team to engage and connect with each other, in a socially distanced manner, to check-in and ask #RUSTILLOK? Embedding resilience into our network is now business as usual.

We are upskilling and empowering our network to practice the #GEM framework; by practicing gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.

The power of this cannot be underestimated, and it has been one of the many pillars of success that have provided the strength to our team to remain resilient even through the toughest of pandemics.

Additionally, we are very conscious of supporting our transport partners and Coles partnered with Health in Gear to rollout a ‘truckie tune-up’ program. Health in Gear is an initiative focused on physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention.

The program is funded through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR) Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative (HVSI) and was an engaging program that promoted genuine care for many of the local and interstate transport drivers delivering freight into Coles’ distribution centres.

These business practices have galvanised our operational approach to managing the COVID-19 crisis and reinforced why ‘caring for our team and communities is always essential work’.

Our duty of care will not diminish once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, however it has reaffirmed that our values are about upholding genuine care for our team and ensuring we promote the health, safety, and wellbeing across all of our operations.

It’s our obligation to do so.

Jo Hammond General Manager Health,
Safety & Wellbeing, Coles Supply Chain

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