Business

Truck drivers during the pandemic: how to stay safe and healthy

Truck drivers are keeping things moving during the pandemic. Trucker Pedro Lopes, DHL Freight, and CFO Barteld Berkhout tell us how they provide for health and safety.


Staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic: a shared task for truck drivers and their employer

Driving trucks isn’t an easy job, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Truck drivers keep us supplied with goods, such as technological devices and medical supplies. Getting a good rest and finding sanitary facilities is not always easy. Besides this, new procedures at borders, docks, truck stops, and customer touchpoints require changes and compliance. DHL Freight´s CFO and CEO Netherlands, Barteld Berkhout, and truck driver Pedro Lopes spent a whole working day together on the road in the Netherlands. They explain what drivers and management at DHL Freight are doing to keep everyone safe.

What is the biggest challenge these days?

Barteld Berkhout: We have a broad geographic set-up and a comprehensive portfolio of logistics solutions and what we learnt again – especially during this crisis – is that we are resilient and well positioned to face any crisis-situation. These are extraordinary times for all of us and thanks to our great team, our network and resources, we are and were able to continuously operate our terminals and maintain a high service standard. It’s great to work for a company like DHL and to be part of a team that continuously goes the extra mile and works with passion to keep our customers’ supply chains running. The biggest challenge that we are facing is that nobody knows what will be happening next and how numbers will be developing. For example, some of our customers – or our customers’ customers – temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. We therefore constantly need to adapt our service. Nevertheless, we are working with them on an ongoing basis to develop solutions as the situation unfolds.

Pedro Lopes: We are living in very strange times right now. No one has ever experienced this before. I’ve never seen anything like it, as a driver or otherwise. Being a truck driver is difficult, we can no longer use toilet facilities at many companies or even enjoy a cup of coffee. But I understand the need for these measures and I will continue to follow these rules for as long as necessary.

Barteld Berkhout, DHL FreightMeeting and engaging regularly with colleagues working at the frontline is important. These great people deliver our services day in and out and make a real difference for the company.

Barteld Berkhout
CFO DHL Freight and Managing Director DHL Freight Netherlands

What is being done to provide drivers with decent hygienic solutions while they are on the road?

Barteld Berkhout: Our planning department in the Netherlands takes the (changing) circumstances into account when they plan each route. They make sure our drivers get the rest they need in places where they are allowed to stop.

How DHL Freight protects truck drivers

Staff and customer safety is DHL Freight’s top priority. Plus, it is our responsibility as employers. Therefore, we are implementing all the safety measures recommended by the government and by our own Deutsche Post DHL Group COVID-19 Task Force.

  • All staff are provided with masks and hand disinfectant.
  • Our drivers are instructed to clean and disinfect the cab of their vehicles each time drivers change.
  • We have implemented government guidelines. Plus, drivers are instructed to adhere to specific additional guidelines put in place by our customers. In some cases, we have implemented contactless delivery procedures. That way, we further reduce the risk of infection for customers and delivery staff who hand over the cargo.
  • Until further notice, we have also waived the requirement for a recipient Proof of Delivery signature. Instead, the driver signs on behalf of the recipient to minimize contact. Naturally, this is done in consultation with our clients and consignees.
  • It is the responsibility of the driver to adhere to government rules. Drivers take these regulations very seriously.

How has COVID-19 changed your daily work?

Pedro Lopes: Daily life is changing extremely fast. People are more anxious, social contact has been reduced to a minimum, children cannot go to school, many people work from home and there is almost nothing to do after work. I have noticed that this leads to frustration. I am lucky that I can still work and see my colleagues and customers. I wish everyone could do so. The advantage for me now is that there are a lot fewer traffic jams and delays, so that I get to our customers faster and I come home to my family on time.

How do you cope with the additional stress?

Pedro Lopes: It may sound strange, but I never really feel stressed. As long as you stay calm, you achieve much more and life is a lot more pleasant.

I am lucky that I can still work and can see all my colleagues and customers. I wish everyone could do so. The advantage for me now is that there are a lot fewer traffic jams and delays.

Pedro Lopes
truck driver, DHL Freight

How are points of contact like gas stations, freight centers, stores, docks, rest and truck stops being managed?

Barteld Berkhout: In the Netherlands the same rules apply to all the points of contact. These are carefully communicated and controlled by the government. At this stage in the pandemic only points of contact which are considered essential, i.e., the basic necessities of life, are accessible for our drivers. Drivers are instructed to always keep to the basic safety rules, such as maintaining social distance, avoiding physical contact while handing over documents, for instance, even when they are on customer premises and in other shared spaces.

Are you affected by the changes resulting from Brexit?

Pedro Lopes: I have not experienced any difficult situations resulting from Brexit so far. Recently, I drove to a customer who, the moment I arrived, indicated that the shipment had been supposed to go to the UK, but that it had been canceled by his client due to uncertainties surrounding border delays. Hopefully, this will be resolved quickly so that road transport can continue as before.

How do you deal with difficult situations such as slow processing at borders?

Barteld Berkhout: When facing new restrictions at the borders or new situations like Brexit, we as a business will try to immediately get an overview of the challenges for our drivers and try to find the best solution possible. Unfortunately, the restrictions sometimes change from day to day and we need to adapt as fast as possible to avoid massive delays in transporting goods for our customers. We can always reroute our trucks, so most of the time we can prevent our drivers from getting caught in long line-ups but this needs to be reviewed case by case.

Talking about Brexit how did DHL Freight Netherlands prepare for this and did you face any issues as a business so far?

Barteld Berkhout: Brexit is one of the topics we had already been working on for a long time. Obviously, it was quite difficult to plan as we all did not know what the final agreement would be in the end. We already started at an early stage with preparing our staff and resources. With our customs experts we already had a solid base but even then the final Brexit agreement came at the last minute and we had to adjust our way of working. That is why we have hired additional staff to support our customers in this new reality, and to better cope with our own peaks, as transports now involve more tasks. Due to the large amount of new work concerning customs declarations and due to the delays in the UK itself, shipping did take longer temporarily. Fortunately, our customers are very understanding and they know that we do everything we can to get all shipments to their destination as soon as possible. When delays occur, the driver reports back to our planning department and we create a contingency plan. We always do this in consultation with the driver and with our customers. And I’m happy to report that we’re up and running.

What are your routes and what was your most impressive experience recently?

Pedro Lopes: I drive from Eindhoven to Amsterdam and the surrounding area almost every day. What makes my job so much fun is that I never know what will happen that day. Not so long ago I had to go to an address in Amsterdam. When I got there, it became apparent that the company specialized in Total Cash Management solutions. After I had registered properly and driven inside, I ended up in a kind of bunker with six large, armored gates. Inside the “bunker” I was all alone, everything was arranged via cameras and I was guided until I could leave again. That was quite impressive and something to remember for sure.

How do you and your colleagues feel about health and safety for truck drivers? Should truck drivers be prioritized for vaccination?

Pedro Lopes: I don't necessarily need to be the first to be vaccinated. Due to the strict government and company measures I follow, contact is very limited anyway. We work very independently and often alone, so I would prioritize other target groups. I always wear a mask myself, follow all the hygiene measures and do everything I can to protect myself and my loved ones. But, of course, nothing is certain.

Does DHL Freight have testing facilities? What is DHL Freight´s testing policy?

Barteld Berkhout: This depends on the country. At DHL Freight Netherlands we do not have our own testing facilities. We use government facilities and follow government policy and do provide vouchers for testing at private clinics for our staff, where our colleagues can voluntarily go to for testing. But in our branches in Germany, for example, a clear process of antigen- and self-testing has been set up in each of our branches. Vaccinations will be administered in line with the government’s prioritization plan. In the Netherlands the government announced that people aged between 18 and 60 who are not high-risk will be able to receive a vaccine from May 2021 but this varies depending on the country.

What are your hopes and wishes concerning your work life in 2021?

Pedro Lopes:  I hope COVID-19 disappears this year and never comes back. The Netherlands and many other countries have already suffered enough damage, not only financially but also emotionally. Children who cannot visit their grandparents, children who cannot go to school, etc. It is a difficult period that everyone suffers from. I really hope that everything will return to normal soon and I will try to contribute as much as possible.

A working day on the road during the pandemic: 3 key learnings for freight management

DHL Freight´s CFO Barteld Berkhout accompanied truck driver Pedro Lopes on the road. These are his conclusions:

  1. Meet and engage regularly with colleagues working at the frontline. Particularly our customer-facing staff who are in direct contact with our customers. These great colleagues deliver our services day in and out and make a real difference for the company.
  2. Regularly review processes and tools firsthand to be in a better position to make the right decisions about our future and our investments. We need to see the real process in action, observe deviations and identify bottlenecks at the source rather than relying on reports or opinions. 
  3. Continuously seek dialogue with our customers and ask their view on our service offerings and where they see room for improvement. Our customers know best.

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