As businesses reopen in a phased approach, worker safety needs to be a chapter in that plan. One of the simple measures employers can take is automated alerts to help employees maintain acceptable distance. These solutions can and should include records of contacts to facilitate contact tracing. The following list of questions will help your evaluation.
- Does the solution offer contact tracing in addition social distance alerts, and if so, how are contacts stored?
Many solutions that alert on distance use wireless technology to warn of contacts. If the identity of the contacts is stored, the solution can use this history to provide contact tracing. The method of transferring contacts from the device to the database can vary. Some solutions require the addition of networking infrastructure which increases deployment time and costs. Look for tags that leverage existing infrastructure like the Wi-Fi network. And when tags might be out of range of the network, are contacts stored on the tags and later transferred to the database when back in range. For fast deployments, cloud-based data repositories should offer data security and privacy. Compliance with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will check most boxes. Alternatively, data might be retained locally for policy reasons.
- What are the alerting mechanisms of the device and can the employer configure them?
Consider the appropriateness of alerting mechanisms like LEDs, audible alerts or vibration for your specific environment. Some devices use a combination and can be configured by the user. And some devices provide a warning beyond six feet in addition to the alert at six feet. Paramount is the ability of the employer to adjust these settings, preferably using over the air tag management.
- What maintenance is required of the tags?
Most tags require battery maintenance and periodic sanitization. Consider the battery life or need to recharge. How are battery level reports provided and what is the process to replace the batteries? Do the tags provide an indication to the user of low battery? Periodic sanitization should be considered, especially if shared among employees. Does the tag have smooth hard surfaces and what cleaning agents are appropriate?
- Does the vendor offer a smart phone app in addition to tags?
When issues associated with personal property and privacy are not an issue, a smart phone app can be a fast, affordable option. To avoid confusion, the app should mimic the interface and operation of the physical tags and work across iOS as well Android devices. Because BLE signals vary between phone vendors, does the app’s algorithm identify and accommodate these variations to ensure consistent distance measurements?
- How are tags assigned to employees and how are they worn?
Employers might find that cell phone apps are not appropriate for the workplace. Use of employer provided tags avoids ownership issues and ensures a consistent result. When assigned to an employee, the record can be entered individually (e.g. a contractor shows up), or as a bulk CSV file upload, or integrated with scanning devices that scan tag codes and employee IDs.
Tags might be worn on the wrist, as a pendant/fob, or attached to clothing and equipment. Because the water in our bodies impacts the wireless signal, tags worn on the wrist or armband usually provides the least interference.
- What are the reporting capabilities of the system?
In its most basic form, the solution should provide reports of contacts over time for individuals and groups. Contact tracing will offer a list of contacts based on time. Advanced features will provide contact tracing based on duration of contact (assuming the tag reports the duration), and a cascading view of contact chains. Graphical views should be exportable to flat files. And with analytics, the platform should not only report groups that might form through the day, but alert management to these in real time. Reports should be scheduled and delivered on an automated basis.
7. Does the solution track the location of people and tags?
If an employee tests positive for the virus, it can be useful to know where they have been to focus your cleaning efforts. Location determination can vary widely depending on the underlying technology. Trade offs are made between level of accuracy, battery life, and additional wireless infrastructure. Be aware of “big brother” concerns and employee contractual agreements that might arise from the idea of location tracking.
8. Can the platform support employee health surveys and communicate important information?
Completion of a simple questionnaire at the start of each work day day is becoming a popular health check. If the platform does not facilitate this type of questionnaire, does it collect information from these systems and present employee status from a common dashboard? And in the event that an employee tests positive, is there an automated notification system (e.g. email, text) that HR can use to quickly communicate with co-workers that came in contact.
9.Can the solution interface with 3rd party systems
These solutions are one piece of a holistic approach to keeping the curve flat as employees return. Integration to company systems like HR and third-party government and agency databases might be needed. Support for REST APIs will provide fast, efficient integration with most systems. The platform should provide WebSocket services as well as data mapping and message brokering/ data exchange among disparate systems. The platform should allow for third party system’s to subscribe to data streams via authenticated secure channels. Be sure to explore the security and privacy made available by solutions.
10. Can the tags be used after the pandemic for other purposes?
Location and proximity support a range of use cases across the enterprise.
- Asset tracking
- Inventory management
- Environmental condition monitoring
- Staff safety and alerting
Consider the flexibility of the tags to support various wireless technologies, accelerometers for vibration, temperature and humidity, and button interfaces for communication. To facilitate these use cases, should be a software platform that collects this sensor data, provides logic for workflows, and analysis to drive better business decisions. With exciting developments in BLE 5.X and Wi-Fi 6, new use cases are expanding the business value these investments return.