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Complete coverage of the pandemic's impact on construction
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Inside Innovation: Technology and good judgment combine to mitigate spread of COVID-19

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Technology and good judgment combine to mitigate spread of COVID-19

Protecting workers onsite and employees in the office has become an important social responsibility in today’s COVID-19 environment.

At the most basic level, this requires some form of screening at the site gateway or building entrance.

As the economy opens up, however, simply asking workers questions verbally concerning outward viral symptoms and recent travel may not be sufficient.  

Co-ordinating the analysis of hand-written questionnaire responses can be problematic as well. In order to be effective, the information needs to be sent to supervisory management for review and logging. However, many office operations are being performed remotely or from home.

The answer may be a shift to a cloud-based process of capturing, communicating and storing the information required, perhaps using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Ideally, the information gathered can be integrated into human resources applications such as payroll and other management solutions already in use. Even so, decisions to allow individual worker/employee access will still rely on the honesty and accuracy of the information being given.

However, onsite technology can step up. For example, once past the gate and working on the actual worksite, maintaining correct social distancing can be monitored using video and image-capturing cameras that might already be installed.

Combined with facial recognition software that feeds back to head office, it’s simply another function for an increasingly useful project management tool.

Taking visual monitoring a step further, American IT solutions company Brash Concepts of Great Neck, N.Y., says it has recently installed thermal cameras on a client’s construction site in New York City. Before workers enter, they approach the camera, which then reads their temperature and notifies managers if it registers above 100 degrees F.

Technology can also help monitor worker placement.

Triax Technologies based in Norwalk, CT, says its Proximity Trace tracking system utilizes a small tagging device mounted in hard hats to provide audible feedback to workers when they move within close proximity of each other.

This provides an immediate reminder to practise correct physical distancing. The tag system also logs worker proximity data, both by number of occurrences and duration. In the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19, this could assist tracing efforts to minimize further spread of the virus.

The importance of correct social distancing is magnified back in the office or enclosed worksite spaces. Erin Bromage, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, writes that virus transmission through the air has proven to be another way COVID-19 is being spread. He points out that virus carriers may not necessarily exhibit any symptoms and may, in fact, never fall victim to it.  Nevertheless, coughs and sneezes can travel surprising distances and at great velocity. The droplets obviously land somewhere too, making it important to continually disinfect any shared touch areas.

Furthermore, Bromage says virus particles contained in those coughs and sneezes can linger in the air. “Even if that cough or sneeze was not directed at you, some infected droplets – the smallest of small -can hang in the air for a few minutes, filling every corner of a modest sized room with infectious viral particles,” he says. “All you have to do is enter that room within a few minutes of the cough/sneeze and take a few breaths and you have potentially received enough virus to establish an infection.”

This draws attention to the formula: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time.

In other words, the longer a person is in a shared environment like an office with someone carrying the virus, the more likely they will become infected.

Common sense, judgement of the environment and the use of facial masks must prevail in enclosed spaces.

“If you are in an open floorplan office, you really need critically assess the risk (volume, people, and airflow),” says Bromage. “If you are in a job that requires face-to-face talking or even worse, yelling, you need to assess the risk.”

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