Inside Logistics

Distancing and tracing

Using technology to promote safe practices and make better decisions


January 1, 2021
by Kevin Paramore

Kevin Paramore
is Emerging Technology Commercialization Manager at Yale Materials Handling Corporation.

While the Covid pandemic has not come to a close, a new normal is taking hold as businesses figure out how to keep moving while taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.

We know that the best way to reduce the spread of Covid-19 is by limiting close contact through social or physical distancing. The challenge businesses face is twofold. First, how can companies facilitate effective social distancing throughout the organization? Second, what can they do in the event an employee tests positive?

Business in the new normal – Not so simple

Large workforces assembling everywhere from the shop floor to the break room mean processes and infrastructure must be adjusted to facilitate distancing.Fortunately, technology can allow organizations to take the burden of enforcement off individuals, helping build confidence among employees and allowing them to focus on their core job function. Wearable tags with proximity sensors that vibrate when employees get too close can alert personnel of the need to keep distance.

When sensors detect the presence of other personnel within six feet, a vibration gets attention without interrupting employees who are not violating proximity guidelines. While audible alerts can be effective, in an industrial setting that has significant background noise, they need to be so loud that they will disturb others.

Adoption of such tags may be facilitated by the fact that many employees are used to wearing electronic ID tags. It’s a well known fact that familiarity with a technology makes its acceptance more likely.

Using ultra-wideband technology for tag-to-tag sensing and communication means no need to connect to Wi-Fi or cellular network coverage to function. Avoiding dependence on local IT infrastructure can expedite startup, and along with simple hardware and firmware, help keep overall cost in check.

What happens if an employee tests positive?

When a positive test happens, the business must move quickly. Contact tracing must be conducted for close contacts – defined as any individual within six feet of laboratory-confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients for at least 15 minutes.

But taking these measures requires data – data that reveals who the infected person came into contact with and where. Tapping into the proximity tags can provide this information for swift, effective deployment of reactive measures.

Basic contact tracing is possible by simply enabling data logging from proximity tags. Approved personnel can refer to this log when they need to identify the tags have been in close contact.

For more detail, businesses can install a bit of extra hardware to enable extremely precise real-time location tracking – so precise it can determine location accuracy within less than a few feet. Advanced contact tracing provides a visual illustration of the tag’s location and quick access reporting on interactions with others – complete with enhanced location accuracy.

Prioritized cleaning and disinfecting enables operations to quickly respond by targeting specific areas based on previous locations of the corresponding tag in the event of a positive test or symptoms.

Social distancing visibility allows management to track daily circulation of employees and adherence to social distancing standards.

Congregation alerts help prevent gatherings of multiple employees in the same area, sending alerts to disband based on employer-defined criteria like specific rooms, number of people and duration.

In action, these advanced capabilities can enable consistent deployment of risk mitigation protocols in location-specific and more complex scenarios.

Privacy

Personally identifiable information (PII) is a key concern when considering use of a tracking system to determine compliance with privacy laws. A tag system can drive compliance with data privacy laws by using only a number associated with each tag, and no accompanying PII available in the system.

The association of tags with individual employees is only performed outside of the system, when a potential for infection has occurred, by the organization’s designated employee who is properly trained to maintain confidentiality and limit the use of PII.

A shared responsibility

From the warehouse to the boardroom, managing the risk of a virus is an ongoing challenge for work environments of all types. With preventive measures dependent on strict adherence by every individual at all levels of an organization, accountability is a must. Wearable tags provide the mix of immediate alerts and data logging necessary for organizations to enforce preventive measures and quickly implement reactive protocols when necessary – all the while remaining unobtrusive enough to avoid hindering adoption.