Jaz Banga, CEO, Airspace
We’ve reached a challenging tension point in the U.S. at which the competing pressures of the need to reopen the economy are in direct opposition to a record number of Covid-19 cases sweeping across the country.
With a vaccine still in the distance and no systemic, nationwide plan in place to address the virus, enterprises are taking it upon themselves to develop a response that will allow employees to return to offices, factories and warehouses in a safe working environment.
Best practices are starting to develop for office spaces, from how many desks to allow, and how far apart, to staggering employee attendance and arrival time. Major brands such as Hilton and United Airlines have put additional cleaning procedures in place as well. While these measures, and others like them, are integral parts of the courses of action needed to keep everyone feeling confident and safe; in some cases, they address issues that are down the line. Just as critical is thinking about how to address potential problems before they enter the physical workplace.
It’s important to understand that we still have much to learn about how Covid-19 works and our efforts to combat it must consider a variety of strategies, not just one or two. Employers can think about employee safety in the key transition spaces before employees arrive at their desks. Areas such as parking lots, lobbies and foyers, elevators, and other communal gathering points are potential hot spots for transmitting the disease and need to be priority areas of concern for any organization looking to develop a comprehensive and responsible plan for addressing the pandemic while also getting people back to work.
Getting In Front Of The Problem
AI-enabled cameras and thermal sensors can be placed in outdoor areas as a line of “first offense” to proactively identify individuals not adhering to mask protocols. This can be done without infringing upon personal privacy with cameras that have been trained through machine learning to identify those using masks without identifying them as individuals. Because of legitimate concerns around privacy and civil liberties issues, it’s incumbent upon those developing and deploying this type of technology to work with the public, law enforcement and government to make sure privacy concerns are addressed. Legislation around this issue has already been proposed by members of the U.S. Senate earlier this year.
Thermal scanning can also be used in these perimeter areas as a first filter to identify employees, guests and others who could pose health risks prior to entering the building/facility by measuring heart and respiratory rate, detecting the presence of particles via coughing or sneezing, and enforcing social distancing by measuring the proximity of people within designated areas. Utilized in conjunction with human intervention for more comprehensive testing, these measures can go a long way toward identifying and mitigating risk to the workforce before people even enter office spaces. Tyson Foods and Amazon are just two examples of companies that have put thermal imaging cameras to use in the workplace for screening purposes. It’s important to note that these sorts of measures are not a complete solution, but they can act most effectively as an initial identifier of potential risk.
Cooperation Is Key
The use of thermal cameras for such purposes fall under the regulation of the FDA, which has taken the following position specifically regarding cameras: “They are labeled for an intended use that meets the definition of a device, e.g., body temperature measurement for diagnostic purposes, including such use in nonmedical environments (e.g., airports).”
Similarly, wall- and ceiling-mounted cameras can be placed in common areas such as lobbies, entryways, stairwells, elevators, kitchen areas and other gathering points. This constitutes an additional layer of potential risk mitigation, helping provide further measures to create a safe work environment.
The Critical Role Of Communications
While technology that identifies potential issues is a strong element of a comprehensive plan, it only provides value if it can alert the appropriate staff members who are then empowered to take action. Email alerts, text messages, push notifications and other communications protocols are also an integral part of any technology solutions and their accompanying implementation procedures.
However, organizations must be mindful that in a rush to operationalize such technology, companies run the risk of neglecting other key communication procedures, which can lead to mistrust, lack of policy adherence and ultimately jeopardize not only the health and safety of individuals but also the economic health of the company. It’s critical that the rollout of any technology be done in conjunction with the communications team and accompanied by a robust communications plan that clearly explains the technology being used, how it works and what it does. And, just as importantly, a company or organization should communicate the steps it is taking to ensure the privacy of everyone involved.
Key Action Steps
For organizations looking to bring their workforce, or the public, back to their places of business, the time to deliberate has passed. It is now time for action. Critical steps for the implementation of safety measures include:
• Identify the right solutions and deployment mechanisms for your particular situation.
• Develop and execute a comprehensive communication and education plan so that all stakeholders understand the measures that will be put in place and how their privacy and safety is being handled.
• Coordinate with the appropriate civil and governmental authorities to ensure all measures fall within appropriate guidelines.
Every action we take now can help reduce risk, instill trust and move our organizations and country forward. A comprehensive response to the Covid-19 crisis can feature all the tools at our disposal.