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Contact tracing solutions

How can employers increase the accuracy of their contact tracing data to ensure it’s meaningful?


Responding is Nick Hayhoe, vice president of sales and innovation, Fleetwood Electronics, Holland, MI.

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises around the world, so does the importance of outbreak risk mitigation in your workplace or on your jobsite. Even with vaccines now being administered across the country, public health experts caution that the virus will continue to play a role in our lives through 2021. Your pandemic action plan is just as important now as it was this past spring – perhaps even more so. This includes contact tracing, which can be a time-consuming, inefficient challenge. But it doesn’t have to be.

After nearly nine months of working with environmental, health and safety directors and safety managers across the country – in settings ranging from manufacturing to construction to fulfillment – I’ve noted a few key elements to ensure your contact tracing data is reliable and truly meaningful, so you can feel confident in your decision-making.

Choose a contact tracing product made with ultra-wideband

The key metric to consider when evaluating a contact tracing product: how accurately it can measure proximity.

Not all contact tracing technologies are alike. Those that use ultra-wideband far outperform those that run on Bluetooth. Hands down. Ultra-wideband products can measure the proximity of two wearers to within 6 inches of accuracy, while the Bluetooth products on the market land somewhere within 3 to 6 feet.

When you’re solving a contact tracing case, every inch matters. You need to know who’s been within 6 feet of the individual who tested positive and for how long. The data your technology gathers will help you determine who should be tested, who needs to self-quarantine and, equally important, who can keep working. You need this data to be as accurate as possible.

Go with an anchorless contact tracing system

Among products that use ultra-wideband, some require anchors to be installed throughout your workplace or jobsite, while others do not. In this context, anchors are electronic devices that detect ultra-wideband pulses emitted by ultra-wideband tags (like the ones found in your contact tracing technology) and forward them to the location server for calculating tag proximity.

The products that don’t require anchors work right out of the box. Rather than pinging an external anchor to determine the proximity of wearers, these products communicate with each other. They’re incredibly easy to set up and easy to use, making it much more likely they’ll be used correctly and therefore produce accurate data.

Be transparent with employees

Educate your employees on the contact tracing and physical distancing technology you’ve chosen. Let them know how the data it collects will and will not be used. In my experience, it’s been especially important to employees that the contact tracing technology not track their actual location in the workplace, just their proximity to others. Their buy-in and trust is crucial. They’re the ones wearing the product and making sure it’s turned on, used and stored properly. Their consistent and correct use of your contact tracing solution plays a huge role in the accuracy of the data you receive.

Make it easy for them

Avoid products that require regular recharging. A long battery life – lasting months, not days – ensures the product will remain operational and won’t die in the middle of a work shift. Look for products that can be worn in a variety of ways, whether attached to a shirt collar, inside a shirt pocket, on a lanyard or attached to a badge retractor reel. As with transparency, the easier your contact tracing solution is to use, the more likely it’ll be used consistently and correctly, and return accurate data.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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