The year 2020 is marked by the fight against an invisible enemy - COVID-19.
It forced us to develop a new form of behavior that is becoming “the new normal”. While face masks and gloves have become the must-have pieces of our everyday outfit, Skype and Zoom have become a substitute for face-to-face meetings and shaking hands - their usage has ballooned overnight.
The Coronavirus has had and is still having a massive impact not only on people’s health around the world, but also on various businesses and industries. While some organisations started operating remotely in order to preserve their employees’ health and safety, others can’t afford this kind of scenario because their work operations require people’s physical presence. In such a case, physical distance is obligatory, which can mean fewer workers per shift.
Some of those businesses are:
As Coronavirus continues to spread, governments, healthcare authorities, and business leaders are focused on preserving people’s lives and protecting the livelihoods of millions of workers who are now unemployed, or in danger of losing their jobs.
So, how to compete and survive on the market, but at the same time ensure the health of our people?
This is where digital technologies jump to the rescue.
1. Remote Monitoring of Assets
The biggest advantage of digitalisation during the COVID-19 pandemic is remote monitoring of assets and processes.
Some of the examples of digital use cases are remote equipment management in the industrial sector, monitoring of room usage in a general office environment, or GPS tracking of assets within the supply chain management.
For instance, through the use of smart technology, employees can be instantly and automatically notified if a key piece of inventory is out of stock or if a work order is on extended hold due to safety concerns. This allows employees to keep up-to-date with the real-time information (asset downtime, inventory outage, work order update) without coming into contact with other employees. Also, being able to access documentation from a distance, they can continue their work without having to meet their co-workers to gain specific technical knowledge.
Finally, by integrating different machines with an IoT platform, workers are able to monitor and control them remotely, provide support and perform virtual inspections and diagnostics without being exposed to one another. So, instead of moving around the factory floor and monitoring equipment manually, they can now use the data coming from smart sensors installed on each piece of equipment to monitor its conditions from their office, home, or while being on the road.
In a nutshell, by integrating sensors, machines and entire systems with an IoT platform, managers or designated employees can keep tabs on worker safety and correct problems in real time from any location via their phone, tablet, or computer. Ultimately, this reduces the potential cross-infection and further spread of the disease throughout the organisation.
2. Enabling Physical Distancing in Facilities
Certain facilities like warehouses and construction sites require their employees to be in closer proximity to one another. Few workers are crucial for operations in the one shift; they should have extra safe distancing protection. In such a scenario, digital technologies can play a major role in enabling better physical distancing. But, how? One way to allow for precision location monitoring is to use hardware tags powered by BLE, RFID or UWB technology, which are affixed to a hard hat or worn as a wristband or with a lanyard. They emit a progressively louder warning sound or visual clues when employees are close to each other thus reminding them to make an optimal safety distance and allowing them to focus on their work. Generally, it is recommended that there is at least two metres of space between workers. So when a tag is within two metres or less for more than 60 seconds, the record is also stored on the IoT platform, together with the worker ID, time and duration.
Different kinds of sensors connected to an IoT platform provide an extra buffer zone around these employees. Inside large facilities, geofencing combined with localisation and IoT technology can be used to zone the physical plant for contagion control. By establishing zones for each group of workers and by grouping workers into teams that always work the same shift, companies can reduce the potential for the spread of contagion throughout the plant if one worker gets sick. The real-time data is recorded, stored and displayed on a dashboard and used to verify the information that only authorised staff have entered that zone between shifts.This kind of digital system should enable moving from a couple of large shifts to multiple staggered shifts, thus reducing the number of people on-site at any given time.
Note that during the epidemic, large facilities, especially factories, should re-organise the enter and exit through two sets of doors thus rerouting foot traffic.
3. Contact Tracing with IoT
Despite best efforts to physically distance workers, some of the employees will test positive for COVID-19. In this situation, it is necessary to implement a contact tracing solution, as it can provide insight into which employees were likely exposed and who needs to take necessary safety measures.
Whether it’s an office space, a healthcare institution or a construction site, each employee can be equipped with a proximity tag which is connected to an IoT platform. These tags keep a log of all other tags seen in real-time, so when a tag comes within contact, this record is stored on the device and sent to the IoT platform when the tag passes by a gateway. No position information is actually needed or captured.
This enables easy monitoring of interactions between the infected and healthy people to identify potential contamination clusters, thus limiting the impact to this cluster only. This historical information is more reliable than relying on workers’ memories and allows companies to decide who needs to be in mandatory or precautionary quarantine per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
The bottom line is that a contact tracing solution enables one source of truth for the historical record of human interactions. In this way, organisations can monitor workers’ exposure to contamination better, keep employees safe and informed in real time and avoid having to shut down their facilities.
4. Empowering Medical Staff with Automated Tasks
To protect healthcare workers, automatisation of routine tasks is essential, especially in areas widely impacted by the pandemic of COVID-19.
IoT-enabled health monitoring systems provide real-time surveillance through the use of wearables worn by patients. This allows healthcare workers to measure patients’ biometric measurements including body temperature, oxygen saturation, heartbeat, blood pressure from a distance, thus reducing a heavy manual workload. Also, the gathered data can be easily accessed via mobile or web-based applications and let heath workers have a clear view of the current health state of each patient. All of this can be done without having a personal contact with the infected and therefore reduce the chance of cross-infection with patients. What’s more, through emergency alerts triggered by data, medical staff can react promptly on any escalation. Likewise, patients can measure their temperatures and automatically upload their data to the IoT platform, thus making it accessible to the medical staff.
Overall, digital technologies provide physicians with a greater visibility into patients’ vitals remotely thus decreasing their workload and the chance of getting exposed or exposing their patients to contagions.
The Leaders’ Role in the Fight against Coronavirus Enemy
Digital technologies are at the frontline in the fight against Coronavirus outbreak.
IoT-based disease surveillance systems have the potential to be a breakthrough in the efforts to control the current pandemic allowing manufacturers, healthcare and construction workers to maintain physical distancing and reduce the risk of getting infected.
As the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, it is now imperative that leaders use digital technologies to maintain the momentum of innovation, and solve the issue of physical distancing to ensure a safe working environment. If leaders have a clear way forward, humans will become amazingly resilient, less afraid and more eager to come back to work.
The good news is that many organisations around the world are already building connected solutions to fight the war with this unpredictable enemy. Given the nature of this disease, it is essential that we leverage these solutions to be one step ahead even when the demands of the pandemic begin to ease and we begin the road to recovery.
The same tools that help us now to cope with new safety rules can deliver added benefits over the longer term. Adapting to the new normal is a challenge, but the result can be a safer workforce in factories or construction sites that operates more efficiently, protects its resources better and can recover from the downturn faster.
What’s Your Next Step?
Here at WolkAbout we fully understand the importance of physical distancing. We have augmented our operations and will continue to make necessary adjustments to ensure the health and safety of our people.
If you are curious about how our Digital Transformation Suite could help your organisation combat the new COVID-19 reality, we are here to help. Our technology is a true innovation enabler, the core that binds all of the components of a digital solution together. Apart from allowing your systems and devices to communicate with each other, regardless of the make, model, manufacturer or industry, it lets you transform a warehouse of data into invaluable insights you can use to build your digital strategy.
To learn how we can help you ensure the health and safety of your employees, reach us out and schedule a consultation with one of our experts. They will help you find out how to leverage digitalisation to keep your workers safe and sound.
In the meantime, check out our blog Responding to COVID-19: WolkAbout Commitment to see how our technology can help prevent the global spread of the virus and improve people’s lives in this time of uncertainty.