How can technology get us back to work safely?

This year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work will mean a lot more to most of us than it would have last year, says Bart Schouw, chief evangelist at Software AG. The pandemic has upended all walks of life, including global business across every industry.

Companies will now need to prioritise the health of their employees above all else before they can reopen their doors. All eyes are watching to see how businesses across the globe can demonstrate the safety of working environments in warehouses and production facilities.

On factory floors, for example, workers will have to practice social distancing measures in order to get back to work. This must happen while still meeting their quotas – not an easy exercise. There has been a slew of mobile apps released that can report an individual’s location, but these can create privacy concerns. Plus, many factories do not allow workers to use their mobile phones on the floor. Even if they did, how do you ensure the app is running on their phones? What if their phone runs out of battery?

Safer working?

What if there was a more robust and flexible solution to ensure social distancing from other workers? And what if you could also feed the data into a platform for analysing their movements? That way, if one of them becomes ill, you would be able to trace his or her steps, interactions or collisions with other workers. Then the whole contact chain could be notified and asked to self-quarantine.

The solution is an Internet of Things (IoT) badge using beacon technology which is not dependent upon apps. The badge is bluetooth-enabled and can identify close encounters (and possible collisions) based on the distance between other badges. It buzzes when a worker gets within the prescribed two metre radius.

Smart badges

Workers would be mandated to wear them, as they are with ID and other badges already, and only the relative distance to other badges is being tracked when they are actually wearing them at work. Because the badge is visible, everyone understands and can see that the wearers – and the factory – are adhering to safety protocols.

Bart Schouw, chief evangelist

Every badge owner is identified at handover, workers are only tracked with regard to the relative distance to others when they are wearing the badge. This solves initial privacy concerns; when they go home, they leave the badge behind. The only difference is that these badges are smart. With data collection and analysis done by IoT platforms, you can see and prove that your employees are working under safe conditions – for compliance as well as peace of mind.

Thankfully, the proliferation of connected devices means that IoT badges have gone from ideation to reality. By demonstrating how they can be used to increase safety on factory floors , companies have been able to reopen plants and take the first steps back to normality and to rebuilding our economy. Social distancing badges are just one example of how IoT technology is helping businesses in the global effort to get people back to work safely.

The author is Bart Schouw, chief evangelist at Software AG.

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