Irish businesses must remain vigilant against Covid-19 in the long term, warns Reach Group CEO Ian Keogh.
Reach Group has been one of the leading suppliers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) across the island of Ireland long before measures were first introduced in March to protect Irish citizens from the spread of the virus. The country is currently under Level 5 restrictions.
Many people are working from home and businesses are being forced to pivot away from having customers and employees in close proximity to each other.
However, having the correct PPE and other protective measures in place will be crucial long after restrictions are eased, insists Keogh, whose company distributes everything from disposable and reusable face masks to sanitisers, gloves and other essential hygiene products.
"The big issue that's facing businesses that haven't reopened, of which there is a huge number, is that come the relaxing of the lockdown - when businesses will start bringing staff back to the office - those offices have to be made ready for employees to go back,” says Keogh.
"You have to fit out, and you have to implement, very strict protocols around movement of staff and distance of staff from each other.
"You have to reckon with sanitising, and kitchen space, and office space, and work stations. All of that PPE requirement is going to switch to the kinds of businesses that are closed now.”
For businesses hoping to come out on the other side of lockdown, planning to bring people back to a safe working environment needs to start now, he adds.
"Take an accounting or solicitor's practice, who employ a lot of people in big offices. Once they decide that it's appropriate for them to bring staff back, then they as an employer are going to be looking at PPE as part of that solution.
"That means dispensers, it means sanitisers, it's exactly like in the schools. Employers need to ask themselves, ‘What is my plan to bring people back to a safe working environment?’ And whether there's a vaccine or not, I think PPE is going to be with us for some years to come.”
With daily deliveries to more than 7,000 locations nationwide using a fleet of 300 vehicles, Reach Group has one of the most comprehensive distribution networks in the country. In August of this year, the company was appointed by the Department of Education and Skills as an approved supplier of PPE, consumables and equipment to schools and colleges throughout the country.
Keogh hopes that the part his company has played in keeping these institutions open in recent months can be mirrored in other industries.
“We supply north of 20pc of the schools in Ireland with their PPE requirement,” he says.
“Our advantage there is that we have a distribution network that travels all over Ireland every day, so you can see how it's a good fit and it's convenient for schools as they can order today and get the products very quickly, whether it's tomorrow or the next day, it depends on the school themselves.
"It's very fast and the products we supply are very good."
As the supply of PPE has met demand, Keogh believes the quality of protective equipment has improved from the early days of Covid-19 last spring.
“The issue, at the outset, was whether or not the quality of the imported PPE was as good as it needed to be. The HSE found out - when they imported certain products - that there were gaps there.”
As people have grown more aware of the dangers of the coronavirus, Keogh believes they have become a lot more savvy about the equipment they are using to keep the disease at bay.
“Let’s say we were supplying a multi-national business who wanted masks for their staff, or we were supplying a health board, they know what they want, they send you the specifications of what they want and they verify the product specification that you send them to make sure it's aligned, and it's only then that they place an order.
"If they don't place an order with you, they have alternative sources who will supply them. Whereas back in March and April that wasn't the case."
Keogh believes many lessons have been learned over the last seven months.
"Back in March or April it was the Wild West. [Businesses attempting to bring in PPE] were paying extraordinary amounts of money but actually getting it to land in Ireland was a real challenge for everybody in the market. That's been well documented.
"We knew we had some secure suppliers and we tapped into them, and we managed to do a good job. We were at the point where demand far outstripped supply, and as time went on - before the government announced that everybody had to wear masks, for example - supply started to exceed demand.
"You had a lot of inferior products landing on the market that were not up to standard. Masks, particularly, were coming from anywhere and everywhere and we stayed a million miles away from those products. We stuck with accredited suppliers."
The number of PPE suppliers in the market has exploded since the onset of Covid-19. For businesses looking to procure PPE to protect their staff and customers, it is essential to source from a trusted supplier offering certified, quality products at fair prices.
Reach Group is a tried and trusted supplier of PPE, approved by the Department of Education and Skills to supply to all schools and colleges throughout the country, with products that have also been tested and approved by the department.
To secure high quality PPE for your business at competitive prices from a reliable source, go to the Reach Group website.