Workplace Safety in the Age of COVID: How Automation is Paving the Way to Keep Workers Safe

Workplace Safety in the Age of COVID: How Automation is Paving the Way to Keep Workers Safe
Workplace Safety in the Age of COVID: How Automation is Paving the Way to Keep Workers Safe

The workplace has changed drastically from where we were more than a year ago. Office cube farms are a thing of the past, and video conferencing has replaced boardroom meetings. But what else has changed?

Looking at the factory floor, employees are no longer able to stand shoulder to shoulder while working as they once did. Workplaces have quickly adopted social distancing and contact tracing to create safe environments where pre-pandemic workloads can be maintained while still protecting the work force. Plant managers have also distributed workloads across multiple shifts, provided access for employees to work from home, and increased the number of days a week for operation.

Automation has improved overall safety in common spaces such as break rooms, locker rooms, bath rooms and lounges. Before the pandemic, the headcount for a common space wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds. If a break room could hold 300 people at a time, no one was sitting at the door of a full room barring a person from entry until someone else left. Now, monitoring headcounts is extremely important to maintain social distancing, but how do you do that? One way to maintain optimal room capacity is through an occupancy monitoring system. The system wirelessly and actively maintains a total headcount using photo-eye sensors that count persons entering and exiting a room. The sensor sends a count to a controller, which then signals at the door entry if it is safe to enter the room. The system is completely plug and play and allows even the most inexperienced of installers to quickly upgrade.

Manufacturers are also advancing safety in the workplace using touchless technology. For example, a touch screen that once required an employee to physically contact the screen now uses PCAP (projected capacitive) touch to allow the user to interface with the screen while never actually touching it. Switches are using this technology as well, enabling employees to easily communicate compliance to new protocols like workstation cleaning. An RGB switch can notify a factory line worker when it is time to clean their work area. Once the task is complete, the employee waves a hand over the switch which changes color to indicate that the work station has been cleaned and sends a signal to a coordinator that the work has been done.

Cleaning a workspace is simple, but how do manufacturers and distributors fight COVID on conveyor lines? Digi-Key Electronics ships tens of thousands of packages a day containing more than a hundred thousand details from an expansive warehouse. You can just about imagine the miles of conveyors and enormous number of totes needed to move product from pick bays to packaging stations. To help prevent the spread of COVID, Digi-Key designed and installed a UV light tunnel on their conveyor system that every tote passes through multiple times each day. The tunnel irradiates the entire tote with UV light as it passes through, protecting both employees and customers from the virus.

The use of LoRaWAN badges is another means to protect both workforces and work flow. Each LoRaWAN badge is assigned to an employee. The badge is a passive device that records to a cloud-based platform when it is in close proximity to another badge and for how long. When an employee is diagnosed with COVID, data can quickly be pulled from their badge to identify other workers who were in close proximity to the infected employee. This helps significantly remove the guesswork from identifying those who were exposed and potentially reduces the number of workers who need to be quarantined. Instead of placing employees from an entire bay in quarantine, only 3 or 4 workers may need to quarantine.

Temperature screening platforms are also popping up all over to further advance safety in public spaces. We see them in airports, work places, restaurants, malls, and more. Screenings help identify if a customer or an employee is symptomatic. While this technology is not 100% fool proof, it adds one more tool to the chest in our mutual fight against COVID.

COVID has had a significant impact on each of our lives. Workplace safety today is light years beyond what it was just over a year ago. One day this virus will be behind us, but it will leave a long-lasting impact on how we conduct business. The lessons we learn from this fight must be remembered so we are prepared to handle the next public health emergency. Knowing how the virus is spread, how to combat it, and having systems in place to do so will protect workers for years to come.

About The Author

Eric Halvorson is the Partnership Marketing Manager – Strategic Programs at Digi-Key Electronics.

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