Thursday, April 16, 2020
In boxing terms, the UK lifting industry is lying on the canvas, blood streaming from its broken nose. It is a bugle already sickle-shaped and scarred—the marks of previous battles (2008 was particularly bruising). There are cuts above both eyes; deep slits stretch the length of left and right eyebrow. Adrenaline has partly stopped the flow of claret, but it still drips onto nasty swellings beneath, that the iced enswell has only just prevented from obscuring vision completely. The top lip is fat and lacerated. The kidneys are throbbing; ribs bruised; and breathing is almost impossible. When a lungful of air can be sucked in, relief gives way to agony as the diaphragm flattens. The mouthguard is bloodied too, knocked clean from this legendary fighter’s gob as the telling punch toppled it.
You get the picture; our sector is on its arse. Coronavirus has punched our lights out. We’ve stood up to tests before, but this is unprecedented. Not that we’re alone; most of the country’s—indeed, world’s—markets are on their knees, with only certain retail and online businesses seizing their opportunity to thrive. Good luck to ‘em. You couldn’t call it a sucker punch—they were talking about COVID-19 in China as we were singing in the New Year (ah, memories)—but the array of blows it has delivered and the ferocity of them, has sent us reeling like we couldn’t have imagined in our worst nightmares.
However, we’re still in this fight. As the referee leans over us, concerned, he can see that behind the patchwork of blood our eyes are clear, indicating that our senses are not yet clouded. Sure, we’re dazed, but the count of 2, 3, 4… is rhythmic and audible. We’ve got to gather our senses, summon the strength and get back on our feet. The good news is, Coronavirus has done its worst. The magnitude of the government’s response, in terms of restrictions and support, has sunk in, and we know what we’ve got to do. There’ll be more punches heading our way but hopefully we can see them coming and start landing some blows of our own.
5, 6, 7…
Word of the year
I’ll be honest, I only learnt what ‘furlough’ meant last month.
But I’d urge UK companies to look at the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that, in short, means you can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of a person’s usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. It is a temporary scheme in place for three months starting from 1 March 2020, but it may be extended if necessary and employers can use this scheme anytime during this period. There’s absolutely no shame in implementing such strategy if it preserves jobs and keeps companies afloat.
It can actually be incredibly uplifting to explore these options with fellow board members and staff. It’s a chance to test a business’s resolve and its team spirit. Firms that sail close to the wind, cut corners and / or don’t have a loyal workforce will be tested greatest by this chapter in their history. Actually, most won’t come through it. Imagine a boxer who doesn’t put in sufficient roadwork and goes into a bout flabby. The punches feel much heavier. And it’s harder to get up.
Conversely, I’ve been humbled by my team’s response to the crisis at all of our depots across the country. We’ve kept some front-line personnel in place but have moved much of the operation to people’s homes; it’s been a massive undertaking, but it’s been hugely rewarding even to get to this point. As we survive these testing weeks and eventually come through the other side, the sense of achievement will be palpable. We’ll feel like champions of the world.
I’ve already heard troubling stories of businesses looking at temporary or permanent lay offs, which is concerning so early into this enforced lockdown. A business is its people. And in industries like the lifting sector, good people are hard to come by. We have a duty to our companies, our wider marketplaces and the economy to do everything we can to start June, July, August… whenever life normalises, with a full quota of people. I’m not alone in thinking we’ll be in for a thrilling ride once the storm—hurricane—blows over.
I think that’s why the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) has postponed all of its events and meetings for the rest of 2020, including the Golf Day, Westminster Chairman’s Dinner, Bahrain LiftEx, Liverpool LiftEx, Cairo LiftEx and various smaller gatherings. Some feel that it’s a premature decision, but I actually think it shows optimism. We had a strong March, even as the pandemic took hold, and there is an abundance of opportunity out there. With a bit of luck, we’ll be so busy that we’ll be grateful not to have these distractions during the last two quarters of the year.
Despite going into survival mode, businesses have got to be careful not to become too insular. There are fires to put out to stop the house burning down but remember that prospective and existing customers are having the same problems. Now isn’t the time to be putting them under pressure to make decisions, but it’s a mistake to be invisible. We’re contacting our clients on a daily basis; we want to be sure we play a supporting role, so our partnerships are that much stronger when normality returns. It doesn’t matter if financial transactions are happening or not. Who will you remember when you come through this—those that were there all along or those who called only when the sun came out asking you to place an order?
It’s also a time to analyse best practices and pay attention to elements of a company that might not always be given due consideration when business is booming. We’re advising clients to look at Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) six-monthly inspections, for example, now to avoid carrying a backlog of out-of-date equipment. We’re going to use the recess to look at International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) documentation to check if there’s anything we can work towards or put in place now that’ll put us in a better position in the future.
I’m proud of the majority of people for responding positively and obediently to lockdown measures, but I also welcome pressure from the government’s opposition benches and other quarters to start planning our exit from them. I acknowledge the importance of preserving capacity in our magnificent National Health Service (NHS), but we’ve also got to strike a balance to ensure we have strong businesses and communities when we come out the other end of the tunnel. I don’t appreciate anyone throwing things too far forward and talking about six, eight or 12-month restrictions because I think we’ll be better advised to proceed one week at a time, mindful of the importance of getting children back to school and people back to work—and back in their local coffee shops and bars—at the soonest, safest moment.
Get your guard up and keep fighting. We will get through this.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd