BY NATHAN DUNN, CEO, BLUECATS
After more than a year of navigating the new COVID-19 pandemic reality, businesses are negotiating new workplace safety requirements.
For construction companies, keeping the doors open and mitigating downtime means keeping employees safe and healthy.
The baseline safety measures — including mask-wearing, increased handwashing, and the use of hand sanitizer — while simple to implement, are just a start. To be successful in the post-post-pandemic world, companies need to look to the intelligent use of technology to tackle ongoing real-world challenges.
Contact tracing technology makes it easier to track down infected workers and staff, making it a needed addition in the ongoing fight against the pandemic.
As we continue to face the effects of a global pandemic, it is clear the world will not stay in quarantine forever, but experts tend to agree COVID will remain a force to be reckoned with for the long term. Even if it seems to be less dangerous than it is now, construction companies need to plan accordingly.
Workers classified as “essential” cannot stop working because of a pandemic; they are the modern economy’s backbone. But they deserve to be safe on the job, and the responsibility falls to business owners to manage this.
The next 12 months will be as crucial as the past 12 and will play a pivotal role in how companies position themselves for success as the world returns to “a sense of normalcy.” Jobsites will play a vital role in controlling the virus’s spread and helping the world emerge from the pandemic’s throes, but it requires an actionable plan.
Hoping for the best is not a strategy on which anyone should rely.
Why contact tracing?
Contact tracing has become a bit of a catchphrase amid the pandemic, but as a technology, it can help organizations save a significant amount of money.
The process involves identifying anyone who came into close contact with an infected individual. The goal is to track down people who may have contracted an illness — COVID-19 in this case — and facilitate quarantining before they infect others.
The process, while effective, can be laborious as it was traditionally a manual one. It typically involved engaging an outside entity such as a health department to conduct phone call-based tracing, potentially adding additional costs and another layer of red tape.
Despite the potential hurdles, contact tracing is an indispensable tool for businesses looking to keep their operations running with as few disruptions as possible.
However, because it is often challenging, if not impossible, to completely track down people without technology, employers often countered by sending large groups of employees home to quarantine, an expensive prospect for everyone.
New solutions, such as wireless technology via non-invasive wearables, facilitate the tracing process and assures more accurate information. Using wireless technology helps lessen the economic burden of a potential closure.
THE CONSTRUCTION CONUNDRUM?
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is positive news for both employers and employees, but polling and survey data indicate not everyone can or will receive the vaccine. Companies need more than a vaccine as they look to acclimate to the “new normal” that is emerging.
Recent polling from Morning Consult revealed that slightly more than half (56%) of employees plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If true, a significant number of people will remain unvaccinated.
The numbers vary depending on the industry — from less than half (47%) of food and beverage workers to more than three-quarters (77%) of higher education workers, and about 53% of manufacturing workers plan to receive the vaccine.
Unsurprisingly, McKinsey recently noted that “jobs in work arenas with higher levels of physical proximity are likely to see greater transformation after the pandemic.”
While some companies — such as warehouses, manufacturing facilities and construction sites — may expand the use of artificial intelligence or other technology to reduce the number of workers at a location, that approach is not realistic or practical for all companies. Regardless, organizations need a safe work environment, and technology will help foster one.
WHY ULTRA-WIDEBAND TECHNOLOGY?
There are two main approaches to a contact tracing system architecture: implementing a Real-Time Location System (RTLS) or calculating the device-to-device distance.
Currently, several wireless location technology options within those frameworks capture location data for tracing. They include Bluetooth LE, Global Positioning System (GPS), Wi-Fi and Ultra-Wideband (UWB). However, UWB technology is the best technology for contact tracing.
While many consumers may know of UWB technology as “that new chip” in their smartphone, it has been available for unlicensed commercial use in the United States for nearly two decades. It has been used for real-time location products for over a decade, and UWB technology continues to evolve, including during the pandemic.
UWB technology captures accurate measurements of time and distance for social distancing purposes — accurate to within a centimeter — and stores it securely to maintain users’ privacy. Those companies with 300 employees or fewer can use their second round of Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funding to purchase COVID-related safety gear for workers, including UWB contact tracing solutions.
IDEALLY SUITED FOR THE JOBSITE
To flourish in the new workplace, employers must know who is on-site at any given time and which assets are in use. Wearable devices provide contact tracing work both indoors and outdoors, making them an ideal component of any construction or manufacturing business.
Construction businesses need easy-to-use and reliable solutions. They must assuage any concerns and bolster their confidence level to return to the jobsite, making UWB the best technology to capture contact tracing data.
Tracing enables organizations to track employees and visitors in real-time. It collects all interactions with other devices and stores the information in a database.
Should an employee test positive for COVID-19, companies can start the process of notifying and quarantining anyone — whether on their team, at a partner organization or a customer — who might have come into contact with the infected employee. While bothersome and potentially disruptive to operations, quarantining exposed employees is less painful than shutting down an entire facility, which is the likely outcome of an outbreak at a facility without contact tracing in place.
Companies that deploy contact tracing should verify that whatever solution they select stores information in a database that protects privacy. The world has enough headaches with the pandemic; there is no need to risk introducing another unnecessary one.
As is the case with any technology on the jobsite, it must serve a functional purpose that enables efficiency and productivity. In this case, it must facilitate tracking down people who have potentially been exposed to COVID and help mitigate any adverse effects.
No organization foresaw the pandemic, and it has bestowed a unique set of challenges on businesses. Some weathered it well, while others struggled.
The lesson of any crisis isn’t how well we react to the hard times we’ve encountered. Instead, it’s how well we learn from those trials and how it helps positively shape our thinking for the future.
Now, we have a chance to proceed in a way that also helps us prepare for whatever challenge comes next. As we look to future-proof our industry, perhaps we’ll have a technological foundation in place that will enable organizations to take whatever the world throws at us in stride.