The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the world and create problems for businesses and industries in its wake.
It does not have a definitive end date, and as such, businesses in Australia are making changes in order to adapt, comply with restrictions, and continue operating as best they can.
The use of newer technologies, such as wearable devices, is being considered as a way to assist with some of the issues businesses are facing during COVID-19, including adhering to social distancing expectations.
Generally speaking, the use of wearables in the workplace has been attracting increased interest for some time, as such devices can be used to improve organisation efficiency, increase employee productivity, monitor staff health and wellbeing (for example, track heart rate and manage fatigue), and create an overall safer work environment.
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Wearable technology has been applied to proximity monitoring and detection applications which can assist with workplace safety.
The mining industry, in particular, has been a leading sector to adopt wearable technologies for proximity detection as well as collision avoidance. Mine operators can attach devices to vehicles or clothing that will alert the employee when they are too close to other equipment or machinery.
Workplace wearable safety solutions may also be the key for some businesses to continue operating in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most businesses will be required to implement a COVIDSafe plan, as mandated by the government, and will be expected to enforce social distancing measures.
To assist with this, there are specific solutions emerging that can help to monitor physical proximity between employees in real-time and provide contact tracing data. This can be achieved by using wearables connected to ultra-wideband short-range wireless technologies (Bluetooth and WiFi) or wireless local area networks (WLANs). The application may alert an employee via a buzzer or similar alert when they get too close to one another.
One of the solutions recently launched in Australia has been developed by Zebra Technologies and is designed specifically for enterprises. It is called Zebra MotionWorks Proximity solution and it combines cloud technology with devices enabled with WiFi or Bluetooth. It monitors if a social distancing breach has occurred for longer than 60 seconds and alerts an employee. It then continues with the alert at one-minute intervals until the employees separate.
It also has the ability to recognise regularly occurring events of more than five minutes and will gather data on the duration of such meetings and the identities of those involved. Web-based reports can subsequently be generated that will provide data for contact tracing purposes.
Another proximity solution is being developed by Australian IoT operator The National Narrowband Network Co in partnership with Belgium-based applications and solutions provider WMW.
The solution was initially developed with the construction and mining industry in mind and it has a number of safety applications, including alerting on-site employees when they get too close to dangerous objects, equipment or out-of-bounds areas.
But a further solution is being developed for COVID-19, which will assist with monitoring staff social distancing behaviour. It can be used in a broader range of workplaces including aged-care homes and hospitals.
Privacy and security are primary concerns surrounding any tracing or tracking system and many of the solutions emerging are addressing these issues by incorporating the ability to collect or report personal data anonymously (perhaps by assigning a unique identifier, rather than an employee’s name).
Businesses considering using wearable devices in the workplace should check the current Australian privacy laws and regulations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked the use of a number of digital solutions for society, both in Australia and around the world, such as telehealth and distance learning for schools.
It may be that workplaces are becoming the next frontier for a digital revolution, and this time, it will not just be large enterprises that are the beneficiaries, but also small and medium businesses looking for new solutions to new problems.