An Adelaide based National freight and logistics provider (Company), like many businesses, faced challenges in 2020 arising from the Pandemic. This business provides freight and logistics management services nationally and has been operating for over 50 years.

The company operates branches in Adelaide, Broken Hill, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Nth Queensland.

Impact of COVID–19 in 2020

Notwithstanding, that the company was still operating throughout 2020, there were many logistical challenges posed by the pandemic that ensured it was not going to be business as usual.

There was also the concern about business continuity and in March 2020, the uncertainty as to what was going to happen. For an industry that needs to have precise planning this level of uncertainty was foreign. The Company was having to adapt quickly to be able to achieve new safe working practices for its employees as well as ensuring business continuity.

With the evolving situation around COVID-19 they developed a COVID-19 management plan, focussed on their commitment to the safety of their people and to business continuity
This was achieved by eliminating, where reasonably practicable the risks associated with contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. The plan was adaptable to take into consideration changes that were anticipated could occur in relation to health advices.

The plan was communicated electronically to all staff and placed on the company’s intranet. This meant that it was accessible to everyone irrespective of where they were located.

Being a transport company undertaking interstate work, the main concerns for the company was maintaining the safety of its drivers and workforce. Where a state was considered high risk, additional measures above the minimum requirements were introduced quickly and included border passes, COVID testing, mandatory temperature testing, PPE and other safety requirements as needed.

The nature of the work naturally involved the drivers going from depot to depot picking up and delivering. In terms of Covid management, this was a new risk factor to consider. The covid safety on those sites were dependant on customer procedures and policies and one that the Company had no control over. In its planning, the Company looked to take all reasonable steps in anticipation that certain customer sites, may not have the same level of CovidSafe protections. For example, this meant mandating the use of masks when at customer depots.


Daily and weekly management meetings were put in place to ensure active management and planning. Managers then flowed these practices to their departments with the same structure of daily and weekly staff meetings. The intent was to ensure that employees were always up to date with what was occurring, changing and what they needed to do to maintain their health and safety. The steps taken by management included:

  • Establishment of the COVID-19 Response management team (Each State manager and the CEO, COO, GM people, safety and culture, GM IT)
  • The COVID-19 Response Management team had daily meetings which allowed for an outline of any concerns and introduction of appropriate risk mitigation measures
  • Development of a CovidSafe plan. The challenge was the ever-changing requirements throughout 2020 as various states had differing requirements as a result of lockdowns and border closures. The plan had to be adaptive.
  • Provide training and enforce social distancing requirements
  • Reinforcing and enforcing all social distancing measures
  • Providing adequate facilities for workers to perform their duties
  • Limiting the amount of people allowed on the premises in accordance with social distancing requirements
  • All non-essential staff or customer facing staff were advised to work from home to reduce the likelihood of exposure or spreading the virus if someone caught it.
  • Technology had very quickly been put into place to enable remote working.
  • State managers providing daily updates and check-ins with staff working from home in order to check and their wellbeing.
  • Ensured frequent cleaning of common areas in depots and enforcing maximum number limits in these areas.
  • Workgroups who had to be in the depots were segregated to ensure minimizing crossover
  • Promoted staff to get the company funded flu shot
  • Supplied PPE including masks, gloves and sanitiser. This was especially difficult in the early parts of the year due to national shortages. The Company resorted to having face masks made and provided to all staff.
  • Required COVID-19 testing where any symptoms were present and later mandated testing for drivers to meet state-based health orders.
  • Maintained records for contact tracing
  • Developing, managing and registering CovidSafe plans that were bespoke for each depot. These were live plans that had to be dynamic to take into consideration changing regulations.

Working from Home

The company had its office-based staff work from home, except those necessary for the day to day operation of the depot, such as some management, supervisors, forklift drivers, maintenance and the drivers.

Whilst in the initial stages of the national lock down this was fine, there soon appeared to be divided views developed between the two groups of the workforce , those working from home and those who had to “come in” to do their work.

In very short notice, staff were sent home to work and that meant relocating IT infrastructure to their homes, most staff in the office have dual screens, however, with additional pressure on the NBN. Most staff were unable to use dual screens causing frustration among the workforce. A decision was made to have certain Roles set up with a Mobile set-up meaning they can hot-desk and log in remotely. Given the pandemic, there was a shortage of laptops and monitors available.

Those in the depot, whilst having to work differently in their workplaces, had some semblance of “normal” working days. They were also able to see and identify the changes happening a lot easier and felt more connected to the workplace. They also felt that they were working harder. A view was that those working from home were able to have more flexibility about choosing when they worked and how they did their work. They did not experience the challenges faced by people having to navigate technology to collaborate with their colleagues in order to get their work done.

Studies have shown that email is just 7% as effective as talking face to face. It simply took longer for smaller tasks to be done when you couldn’t walk up to someone to talk to them to get an issue quickly resolved. Those working from home also appeared to feel disconnected, irrespective of the daily and weekly touch ins and catch ups. For some, these meetings didn’t make them feel connected to the workplace. Instead it caused them to feel that they were just being told what to do and what happened and did not give them opportunities to provide input.

It appears that change, brought on quickly, with strict protocols and mandates meant that usual HR processes to engage employees may not work as well, when Covid safety measures trumped everything.

Border closures

The Company had never had to deal with Border closures. When the various lockdowns occurred in Vic, NSW, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia from about the middle of 2020, it was accompanied by a variety of border closures. For a national business, this meant dealing with different rules and requirements for each state from the type of permits to the testing requirements and the hours of work for the drivers.

The main issue was the lack of warning for such requirements. In some instances, this resulted in drivers not being able to cross a state border and having to wait in no man’s land whilst permits were sorted. The result was a new level of strain on fatigue management requirements. Drivers waiting for permits or other requirements to be assessed by officials manning the border, were losing valuable driving time.

If they clocked too many hours, they were compelled under fatigue management rules to stop driving. Having this occur in at the border usually meant they could not return home or move forward. This meant pulling the truck over the side and having to sleep in their truck at the side ofthe road, as there would be no motels or resting places and even places to get food. After having one of these experiences, the Company warned all drivers to ensure that they had enough water and food for such contingencies.

Due to a rapidity of borders being closed, often communication to officials on the ground were poor as rules were being finalised. The company had to navigate complex and differing processes to ensure the appropriate permits were obtained and provided to drivers, who were on the road, in time for them to present at the border.

The problem was that each permit was not only having to be checked but also interrogated. Unsurprisingly this created a blockage at the border and ad increased traffic stoppages. This caused unnecessary and lengthy delays.

Neither the Company nor the drivers could anticipate delivery times and requirements and invariably their trip was delayed. A delayed trip for this industry means, that the driver must pull the truck over wherever they are and stop driving. Usually, the trip is meticulously planned to provide sufficient stops and at appropriate venues so that the driver could be refreshed. When borders were closed at short notice, it meant that the schedule could no longer be relied on and the driver’s stopping point was invariably on the side of road, without access to meals or an appropriate rest stop.

Delays at the border also caused trouble for our changeover drivers, border delays could mean that one driver could be left waiting hours to swap trailers.

Drivers were becoming angry as they payment method is per trip, if that trip take 5 hours or 8 hours, they still only get their “trip rate”. As a work around, some changeover points were changed.

The solutions to this have taken time and negotiation between various state governments. Its still not perfect, but the Company has managed to work with this system. Whilst in most cases, common sense prevailed, significant delays still occurred. We note that Employer Associations and Unions proved to be very helpful and gave us a voice to raise concerns with governments.

Another requirement that drivers faced, was to have a Covid test every trip, dependant on which state they were entering. The discrepancies between border requirements were hard to follow and created a lot of confusion. Whilst the safety measure of testing was necessary, the structure of insufficient communication between states as to results etc, meant unnecessary and onerous testing. After this was brought to the attention of state authorities, this got reduced to being tested on day 1,5 and 13 unless you had a negative test withing 7 days prior to entering the state. Again, the frequency varied when outbreaks occurred, and directions changed.

Employee Safety

Employee safety was paramount, and the Company instituted several measures. Social distancing requirements were mandated and enforced at all depots and customer sites. All depots and customer sites rules were enforced, and employees adhered to it. These included:

  • Temperature testing at all depots of all staff, contractors and visitors.
  • AM and PM staff could not congregate in common areas.
  • Drivers were to remain in cab or an exclusion zone and only one loader per truck
  • Each workgroup had to remain separate, e.g. admin staff were not permitted to eat in the operations lunchroom. Maximum numbers of people as noted were allowed in common areas,
  • Introduction of staggered lunch breaks
  • Frequent cleaning of hot spots
  • Hand sanitising stations have been placed in key areas around the facility
  • Cleaning supplies and sanitising products were available to all staff.
  • Requirement for Hand sanitising following any interaction with customers or work colleges
  • Requirements to follow customer site requirements
  • For all staff except for drivers, where social distance could not be maintained, masks must be worn.
  • COVID-19 aware signage was placed at entry points.
  • Only essential visitors /contractors are permitted on site and records including contact details must be retained for 28 days.
  • Contact tracing register was instituted, and employees had to ensure that they complied
  • Where possible, internal doors were to be fixed in the "open” position to prevent touching unnecessary surfaces
  • Meeting rooms and offices were redesigned to allow social distancing
  • Forklifts and Trucks were cleaned at the start and end of each shift by the operator. All forklifts and trucks had adequate supplies
  • Drivers supplied and used their own linen including bedding, towels
  • Mask usage was mandated for drivers at depots and customer sites
  • All touch points on trucks and trailers, including air lines were to be cleaned post use, and sanitised before and after use.
  • Cleaners were engaged to ensure that sleeping quarters were thoroughly cleaned and sanitised after each use.

The Company has a high proportion of older workers with the average age being 57. This placed them in higher risk category and the Company was concerned to make sure that they and their families were kept safe. The Company instituted shift arrangements and separation of staff during meal breaks which created bubbles or teams, which in turn reduced the risks of cross infections. Sanitisation and social distancing measures along with mask usage were all strictly adhered to even though this meant that workers spent much more time in preparing for their work than they would ordinarily have done so.

One employee, unfortunately contracted Covid-19 outside the workplace and was isolated. Due to adherence to the CovidSafe plan, he did not pass it to anyone else in the workplace. The small number of people that were deemed close contacts were easily identified, tested and isolated. They all returned a negative test.

The Recovery

Whilst the business operated its function and were able to meet the demands of its clients, it couldn’t undertake any forward planning activities. To that end, whilst it did not face a major reduction in its workload in 2020, the recovery process in 2021 has been slower as a result of not having had the opportunity to generate new work and thereby grow. The financial pressures felt by clients in 2020, has now impacted the business in terms of current sales.

On a positive note, the Company was in the fortunate position of not having to make any employees redundant during 2020. The sector was able to operate throughout the lockdowns and the Company recognised this advantage of this. Non the less, there was a cost to doing business that is unrecoverable. The Company faced unrecoverable increased costs as a result of:

  • implementing CovidSafe plans on their depots, which were ever changing at short notice,
  • actual costs associated with increased PPE for Covid safety
  • decreased productivity associated with CovidSafe practices
  • sourcing additional appropriate drivers/trucks at short notice to cover for drivers stranded arising from border closures and permit requirements

Pleasingly, even with the increased obligations on drivers to receive testing and follow the strict covid practices, the company’s attrition rate of employees was no different to other years.

With hindsight, the Company would not change its strategy or its investment in keeping its employee’s safe. It’s measure of success was seeing its safety measures working and that in the main, it has retained its staff.

2021 has been and continues to be now focused on recovery and building and growing new business.

Need help?

The Workplace Advice Line is Ai Group’s national telephone advisory service for all your on the spot workplace related questions.

Call the Workplace Advice Line
1300 55 66 77 and press option 1
(Overseas: +61 3 9867 0100). Email:

Weekdays from 8.30am to 5.30pm
(Australian Eastern Daylight/Standard Time)

General enquiries

Want to get in touch? We'd love to hear from you.


Industry Experience Survey

Let us know how COVID-19 has impacted your business and what you're doing about it.

Become a member

The Australian Industry Group is the peak membership body for Australian industry, linking you to the insights, services and expertise you need to be successful. As a member of Ai Group, you are part of a powerful, credible and experienced industry community.