Workers are the backbone of any business, and the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us just how crucial it is to prioritize their health and safety.
As the emphasis on worker safety scaled up in the past year, so did the adoption of innovative technologies, like wearables, in the industrial workplace. These connected devices have spread from our homes and offices to every corner of the supply chain. From production facilities and warehouses to transportation companies and distribution centers, wearables are helping reduce the frequency and duration of close contacts in the workplace, and streamlining companies’ contact tracing processes.
Maintaining safe distances in the typically close environment of an industrial workplace poses a unique challenge. However wearables are helping employers beat the odds and reduce the number of close contacts (interactions within six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) among employees. Many industrial wearable devices have been updated to measure new data points related to worker proximity and contact duration. Devices originally intended to reduce worker injuries, for example, are now also uncovering workplace and process redesign opportunities that can reduce both the frequency and duration of contacts.
For example, when a global leader in supply-chain management and third-party logistics tested wearables in one of their facilities, they gained insight into how their daily workflow impacts close and long duration contacts between employees. Data showed that more and longer contacts were occurring on the days they received shipments. With this insight, the company knew a specific process that could be redesigned to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
Similarly, after deploying wearable devices at a site, a leading U.S. e-commerce company learned that long duration contacts were spiking during lunchtime, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. Alerted to the fact that employees were eating in close proximity to each other, management requested workers practice social distancing at lunch and employee contact duration decreased by 70% during this timeframe.
We all now know that early detection and quick response helps control the spread of COVID-19, making contact tracing an integral process for keeping industrial operations running. And anyone who’s run a contact tracing process also knows it can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive. Wearables change this, acting as a complement to the process to speed it up, and increase its accuracy too.
Traditionally, when faced with a positive COVID-19 case in their facility, management must watch hours of CCTV footage and interview multiple employees to perform contact tracing. And the process is further complicated by new CDC guidance released last fall that adjusted the 15 minute close contact timeframe to be cumulative. Wearables digitize the entire process with objective data, adding reliability and accuracy, and significantly reducing manager and HR time.
As an example, a leading e-commerce company used data from their wearable devices to improve upon their existing contact tracing process when they experienced a positive case at a facility. With reports that showed who all the close contacts to the infected individual were, and at what time they occurred, management was able to focus their interviews on specific employees and review surveillance footage at exact time frames. In turn, they reduced their contact tracing time by 50%, and reported a much higher confidence level in their results.
Wearable tech is poised to help companies meet evolving COVID-19 safety requirements, such as new OSHA special guidance, or emergency temporary standard recommendations, that could result from President Biden's recent executive order. The connected tech is primed to support new directives around social distancing and workforce communication during outbreaks.
Furthermore, when these immediate needs become less relevant in the workplace, wearable devices can continue to optimize worker safety when utilized for both their new and original functionalities — such as injury reduction and ergonomics. When we reach that point, employers and employees alike will benefit from the new habits developed during this challenging time — from workers wearing the devices daily, to management utilizing data analytics to identify and reduce risk in the workplace.
Haytham Elhawary is co-founder and CEO of Kinetic, a wearable technology provider and software analytics platform.