Declared an essential service, South Africa’s petrol stations have kept supplying vital fuel throughout the Covid-19 lockdown while radically changing the way they do business. 

“Re-building an airplane while still flying it is the best analogy” says Tebogo Mekoa, Retail GM of Astron Energy which holds the license to operate the Caltex brand in Southern Africa; “we had to deliver major shifts in operations across a complex supply chain to keep staff and customers safe while trying to ensure continuity of supply”. 

As the virus took hold, Caltex re-looked its standard operating procedures in every area, guided by the precautions outlined by government and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. The company was also informed by international best practice. 

36,000 face masks were immediately supplied to all 850 Caltex outlets across the country – with every staff member needing a minimum of two to allow one to be cleaned – along with sanitiser and sanitising stations. A new set of cleaning regimes were enforced and cashless transactions were prioritised. Forecourt shifts were kept completely separate, with no crossover contact, to ensure better virus management. 

Mekoa says that training was the main focus; “We provided the material for retailers to use to educate staff about the virus and about what they needed to do keep themselves and their customers safe.”

Each Caltex station has a strict ‘Positive Case Sanitisation Procedure’ in the event of a member of staff testing positive which includes a full site deep cleanse/sanitisation by an NICD-approved service provider and certified before re-opening. This is done in tandem with tracing and isolation of anyone who has come into contact with the infected person. 

Fuel delivery presented a major challenge as demand dropped. During Level 5, Astron Energy promoted split load deliveries with co-ordinated orders and pooled deliveries to lower costs for retailers. Then the sudden surge in fuel demand at Level 4 combined with national pipeline issues created a shortage of diesel in the inland areas which meant large-scale trucking of fuel from Durban to keep retailers supplied.  

According to Mekoa, many of the operational changes to petrol stations will outlast the pandemic; “We will entrench good sanitation practices as a way of life, design our new retail spaces accordingly and encourage a further shift away from cash to contactless payments.”

Mekoa says that everyone at Astron Energy and Caltex responded superbly to the crisis; “Our retail network did everything possible to keep their businesses operating safely during a very stressful time financially and the Customer Service Attendants are unsung heroes who have stayed on the frontline.” And he believes the public has noticed their efforts through an upswing in positive reviews for Caltex Customer Service Attendants; “We have received wonderful personal messages and expressions of gratitude on our social media platforms commending individual Caltex staff who have made great impressions. This pandemic has brought out the Ubuntu spirit in South Africans everywhere.”