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Challenges in optimising workplace safety

Home > Our services > Services and facilities > COVID-19: technologies to support workplace safety > Challenges in optimising workplace safety

Technology can support safe working practices

COVID-19 has changed the world of work as we knew it.  As Scotland emerges out of lockdown and employees are returning to work, employers have responsibilities to manage a host of new procedures to ensure their employees remain safe.

Technology has a part to play to help companies with compliance and the safeguarding of their employees and technological solutions may assist in enabling, encouraging, enforcing and evidencing new procedures and practices.

View our full guide on technologies to support workplace safety and please ensure you are familiar with the Scottish Government Routemap and the current situation for Scotland.

Managing workspaces

The Scottish Government has issued guidance for the manufacturing sector and invites companies to consider five key areas.

Assessing risk
Involving the workforce in a risk-based approach to a safer workplace.

Workforce planning
Supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not.

Operational guide and checklist
Changing the workplace environment to protect your workforce.

Deliveries, distribution and visitors
Protecting your workforce and those who come on-site.

Training and compliance

The regulator for health and safety at work is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who will utilise powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure people at work are protected.

The main objectives are to ensure that:

  • A distance of two metres* is maintained between any persons on the premises (except between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer)
  • People are only admitted to premises in sufficiently small numbers to make it possible to maintain that distance
  • A distance of two metres* is maintained between any person waiting to enter the premises (there are exceptions, for example, between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer)

*Ensure you check the latest guidance

Managing workplaces to control the spread of COVID-19

The following factors should be considered in the context of the workplace:

The closer people are, the more likely the virus will spread.

The longer people spend in close proximity, the more likely the virus will spread.

The virus can persist in the air for some time in enclosed spaces.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) compliance
In situations where close contact is inevitable, any lapses in PPE use risks virus spread.

Identifying potential carriers
If body temperature or other symptoms can be accurately monitored, then potential carriers can be identified and removed from the workplace.

The virus can persist for some time on doorhandles, desks etc.

We’ve highlighted a few of the key challenges associated with managing workspaces.

Challenge 1: Maintaining physical distancing

It is widely known that transmission from viral particles increases the closer a person is to someone with COVID-19, and the longer they are in contact with them. While employers can assess and redesign workspaces to set up physical distancing procedures, they can sometimes find that the systems work very differently in practice.

One-way pedestrian systems and careful spacing of workstations are relatively straightforward to set up to respect the two metre distance rule. However, it is still possible to miss something that results in a higher than expected foot traffic at certain times of the day, or perhaps staff forget when they are absorbed in work or eager to communicate with colleagues.

If an employer knew the number of times distancing procedures were breached in each area across a working day, they could decide if further refinement could be made to procedures to keep employees safe.

Challenge 2: Contact tracing

If an employee tests positive for  COVID-19, it is vital that employers minimise spreading within a workplace.  Any colleagues that are likely to have been exposed should self-isolate and be tested.

In a workplace where an individual is only ever in contact with a few people, this can easily be achieved without technology.  However, in larger spaces, the ability to record the identities of co-workers who have been in close proximity would be useful.

Challenge 3: Maximising air quality

Poor ventilation in confined indoor spaces has been associated with the increased transmission of COVID-19. Viral particles are dispersed outdoors more quickly than they are indoors.

In an enclosed environment, the particles that cause COVID-19 may persist for hours and as the infection is spread from respiration, ventilation and air conditioning settings must be considered to help reduce the spread of infection.

In an enclosed space, CO2 concentration builds up as people breathe, so this measure could be a useful proxy for air freshness and as an indication of the level of virus potentially hanging in the air. Keeping the air fresh is helpful for workplace productivity in general, with sub-600ppm a desirable target.

CO2 sensors could activate alarms once certain levels are exceeded. Humidity could also be monitored as there is evidence that viruses survive longer in conditions of low or high humidity, so a target of 40 to 60% is desirable which is a comfortable level of humidity for workers. The combination of low temperature and low humidity seems to be one of the factors making meat processing plants particularly vulnerable.

Challenge 4: Identifying asymptomatic carriers

One of the challenges with COVID-19 is that infected people typically become infectious themselves before showing symptoms. Nonetheless, if people who have started to show symptoms are identified sooner and before they begin to feel unwell, then the number of subsequent infections might be reduced.

This is typically done by contactless temperature scanning using infrared sensors. In practice, most sensors are not accurate enough to do this reliably, but they may pick out the majority of high fevers. However, they will also pick out many people with higher temperatures for reasons unrelated to COVID-19.

The more accurate temperature scanners are expensive and need to be carefully set-up and operated.

Challenge 5: Ensuring PPE compliance

In a work situation where people must work in close proximity, they should wear protective clothing such as a face mask. However, workers may forget this rule especially if they only occasionally have to work in this situation.

Video analytics systems could detect if face coverings are being worn or not and raise an alarm if necessary.

Next steps

There are lots of different products and services on the market that could help employers manage new workplace distancing and optimise workplaces for comfort and staff safety.

However, work environments vary enormously so it is important to consider which of these technologies are likely to make the most difference in a particular situation, taking the views of staff into account.

If you have questions, or would like to explore how your organisation might introduce technologies to reduce the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace, please get in touch for an informal discussion.

Business Development team

Scottish Enterprise
Digital Transformation Specialists team.
Tel: 0300 013 3385