Good to be back but


The distillery is operating again, at reduced functionality, with the majority of our personnel still off site. Our HR and Production Management and Health and Safety teams are doing everything they can to allow any staff who absolutely have to be at the distillery to be there safely, while practising social distancing and following Public Health Scotland guidance. It seems it will be a while yet before we can contemplate welcoming visitors; the situation is set for review in September.

Here are some details of our curtailed activities, and the new layers of precaution we are taking against Covid-19.

There are new protocols for staff, inevitably. Every access request is assessed for its immediate need and coordinated by Production Director Allan Logan and PA Becky Codd for the week ahead. On arrival onsite, everyone carries out a temperature check. There’s a PPE station at the shop door for any worker entering to use the sanitiser and to collect a face mask. Toilet and hand wash areas have additional signage to manage a single person at a time; there are disinfectant wipes for taps and door handles after use. We only have about 40% of our staff back at work currently; the remainder are still working from home.

“We’ve had to be severe about prioritisation,” says Allan. “There’s been lots of tough decisions about who’s in and what they can and can’t do, where they can and can’t go. Restricted movement around the warehouses make things like private cask requests impossible just now. Offices are basically out of use. We’ve all just had to accept there are new limitations to what we can do if we want to keep working and keep everyone safe.”

Production staff cannot cross to the Bottling Hall. In the absence of customers, the Laddieshop staff are spreading out on the days when they are on duty manning the phones or posting out orders. They’re bringing in thermos flasks so as to avoid moving through the corridors to the kitchen.

The bottling hall were first to restart in mid May as pressure for more stock mounted from the international hubs. The staggered nature of the lockdown across the globe has seen us almost literally trapped in the middle. In terms of demand, it’s a complicated, moving picture, and of course our timeline for bringing out new releases has been affected. And staffing has been an issue because some people have had to be shielding.

Says Bottling Hall manager Jonathan, “The guys are doing an absolutely fantastic job in difficult circumstances. It’s been especially challenging having to wear PPE all day in very warm conditions due to the sunny weather. Everyone is just really focused on getting through the big runs as efficiently as possible and getting home again!” We have two separate bottling halls these days, one for whisky and one for gin, but neither team can get the use of their canteen because the spaces are too confined for social distancing. 

Of course, the bottling lines cannot operate in isolation – there are a small number of Bottling Hall office staff who need to be in to make it all function, with the necessary works orders and export paperwork. They are the only desk staff who have returned at present. Bottling is also dependent on the warehouse crews as the spirit needs to be “dumped” into the vats from its casks in the stows. That takes place in warehouse 12 at the top of the brae, then it is delivered to the Harvey Hall in the dedicated laddie tanker.

David Hope on the forklift at Coultorsay Warehouses

The warehouse team have been split into two small bubbles to limit the contact between them, and there’s a strange feeling of suspense. “We’re all just trying to work out if everything is ever going to get back to normal; maybe one day,” says Stewart Young, our tanker driver.

Production of the spirit started again in early June. Ordinarily, it is done by one mashman and one stillman, so no major changes have been necessary there, except for extra sanitisation. Their shifts mean there are times, in the middle of the night for example, when only two of them will have to use the canteen and facilities, via the empty courtyard.

“Being the largest private employer on the island with 80 members of staff, it’s extremely important to us that we keep them, their families and the Islay community safe.” Says Emma Crawford, head of HR. “We’re doing what we can to implement a phased return to work, with rotas, split teams, and strict safety procedures to minimise risk – putting our staff first, while doing our level best to ensure business continuity.”

We’d like to thank all of our customers for their support and patience during these strained times.

– – – –

With many thanks to Craig Woodrow, Bottling Hall, and Jay Doherty, Warehouseman, for the photos.
And to the PPE models; good on you.

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