A vector image depicting supply chain management

Contributed by Eric R. Byer of the National Association of Chemical Distributors 

The National Association of Chemical Distributors’ (NACD) members play a vital role in the American supply chain. Early on in the COVID-19 health emergency, the chemical industry, including chemical distribution, was designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as an essential critical infrastructure and workforce. As a result, most of NACD’s distributor members are still actively operating to ensure that products are moving within the supply chain – and that especially includes cleaning agents.

With more than 70% of NACD’s chemical distributor members supporting the detergents, surfactants, emulsifiers, and wetting agents industry, chemical distributors are a vital link to ensure sanitation and cleaning companies across the nation continue to receive the chemical goods like soaps and detergents and sanitizers they need to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Chemical distributors also provide needed products for the energy sector, water treatment, food supply, pharmaceuticals and much more. 

Despite the rapid and substantial economic contraction due to the coronavirus, over 40% of NACD members reported an increase in order volumes at the onset of the outbreak. As of April 1, fewer than 15% of NACD members reported cutbacks in part-time employee hours, with fewer than 1% reporting layoffs of any kind. This is in large part due to the fact that many of our members distribute isopropyl alcohol, ethanol and other products that go into hand sanitizer and other disinfectants.

NACD members were particularly well-positioned to continue supporting the health and safety of their workers while continuing to operate as essential businesses by providing needed products to the sanitation and cleaning industry and others during the coronavirus pandemic. This is in large part due to their mandatory participation in the association’s environmental health, safety and sustainability program, NACD Responsible Distribution. 

Thanks to this program, chemical distributors already had important tenets in place like training protocols to respond to new hires or employees being asked to cover job functions they may not normally hold due to absence or illness, communications plans and decision trees ensuring emergency contacts and roles and responsibilities were in place when workplaces had to quickly transfer to a working from home model wherever possible, and others. Across the board, contingency planning like that required by Responsible Distribution and other industry environmental health and safety programs, whether focused on a chemical spill, a weather event or some other unexpected emergency situation, ensures that businesses are prepared to meet whatever challenges come their way.

In a matter of just days after the outbreak began, chemical distributors reported a range of new steps to combat the virus, including increased availability of personal protective equipment, non-stop sanitization, blocks on all but essential visitors and hands-off truck bay procedures. Members also reconfigured their workforces to ensure separation and social distancing in their facilities, while 80% reported being able to shift at least some office staff to telework. We have only seen a few isolated cases of COVID-19 being contracted by member company employees.

While we don’t have exact percentages, we estimate more than half of NACD members have applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Many have already received disbursements. Like other companies and industries across the country and the globe, chemical distributors are tightening expenses to ensure that they can weather the duration of this pandemic.

Thanks to their access to chemicals that are important in disinfecting and cleaning, and their use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in regular operations, chemical distributors were able to quickly step up to the plate to help our communities and our country get through this unprecedented time.  A large number of NACD members are donating sanitizers and personal protective equipment to local hospitals, first responders and other health facilities to help them combat the coronavirus outbreak. The public health crisis has also fostered an enhanced spirit of collaboration among our members and their customers like commercial cleaning agent firms. NACD distributors are working with industry stakeholders to ensure that all aspects of the chemical supply chain get through this pandemic as smoothly as possible by purchasing product from one another, partnering on new opportunities and other initiatives.

As our local, state and federal governments begin to find a way out of the economic shutdown, chemical distributors know these will be extremely trying times for our industry and our communities. We look forward to working with our suppliers, our customers, our lawmakers and our employees to continue managing the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and contribute to our country’s eventual recovery.

Eric R. Byer is president and CEO of the National Association of Chemical Distributors, an association of nearly 430 companies that provide products to more than 750,000 end users in industries as diverse and essential as sanitation, construction, healthcare, electronics, pulp and paper, water treatment and many others.