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fob monitoring

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Wearable Solution Helps Security Factory Buffer Against COVID-19

Miniscule but powerful, the novel coronavirus has had more than two years to adapt to its human hosts, finding ways to multiply and survive through mutation and transmission from one person to another. But humans can adapt, too.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, several ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions America (ASSA ABLOY) sites implemented various solutions to prevent its factories and distribution facilities from having to shut down while protecting staff from infection.

Some solutions were focused on monitoring for symptoms of the illness, such as temperature checking stations, and others were more proactive, including the installation of plexiglass barriers. Joshua Larson, director of operations development for ASSA ABLOY, notes that these barriers made social distancing efforts easier, especially on factory floors where some workers needed to operate near others on an assembly line. Physical barriers greatly helped employers and employees follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on limiting the chance of spreading the virus to others nearby.

But however effective these initial efforts were, Larson says, there was still a level of “guesswork” involved if an employee tested positive for the virus. “How do we determine who was at greatest risk of exposure and then take appropriate action as outlined by CDC guidelines?” Larson says.

How do we determine who was at greatest risk of exposure and then take appropriate action as outlined by CDC guidelines?

And the problem was two-fold: first, not everyone is skilled at visually gauging six feet of distance without some marker or indicator; second, memory is proven to be largely subjective and, despite best intentions, the infected person might not remember everyone he or she encountered at work while contagious. Objective traditional solutions, like surveillance cameras, might have blind spots, too.

As Larson was searching for a solution, he heard about a potential option out of HID Global. With HID and ASSA ABLOY owned by the same parent company—Assa Abloy AB—it felt natural to use a solution so close to home. 

The Bluzone solution used by ASSA ABLOY partly consists of wearable fobs that elicit a beep when another fob-wearer gets too close for too long. CDC guidelines on social distancing recommended maintaining a 6-foot buffer between people or, when closer than that distance, keeping the close interaction for no more than 15 minutes. Placed at the waist, the fobs’ proximity alert can be scaled to allow employees who need to work closely with others—while still separated by plexiglass—without a constant beeping alarm going off.

To support the wearable fobs, small wall adapters were plugged into outlets along the facility floor, generating a Bluetooth network that tracks and logs the fobs’ positions, along with any violations of social distancing parameters. This part of the installation required some advanced mapping to ensure there were a sufficient number of outlets to provide coverage throughout factory floors.

The system was deployed in six facilities in the United States, one in Colombia, and another in Mexico, keeping assembly lines and deployment activities running.

Mirroring the duality of the technical setup, Larson notes that how the team implemented the Bluzone solution was also two-pronged. “There’s the technical side but then a communication side,” Larson says. “We as a team really spent a lot of time on that communication side.”

Larson adds that to anticipate questions or concerns that factory staff might have in reaction to the fobs and being tracked while at work, discussions and planning prior to the solution’s rollout were ultimately helpful—especially when leadership was brought in.

A team composed of senior leadership at the factory visibly wore the fobs for weeks prior to having all employees wear the fobs. “They saw our leadership team wearing it, saw how comfortable it was, saw the results,” Larson says. “That was, I believe, kind of a key component to having a successful adoption in the workforce.”

Another upside to having leadership’s participation was that this first part of the rollout gave Larson a chance to test the network and whether the fobs were providing an accurate signal to users and alerting them when two fob-wearers were standing too close to each other for too long.

Larson says that the initial planning behind the solution’s implementation also allowed him and his team to consider concerns and worst-case scenarios in reaction to using Bluzone and prepare for any reactions and questions raised by employees.

“I would say that because of those efforts, having an inside view of what the reaction was going to be, and then all the effort we put into the communications side, we did not have a whole lot of resistance when it came to adoption,” Larson says. “In the beginning, there’s always a few people who are skeptical.”

They saw our leadership team wearing it, saw how comfortable it was, saw the results. That was kind of a key component to having a successful adoption in the workforce?

But Larson adds that even initial detractors quickly came around once they witnessed leadership demonstrating how the fobs function. Now, fobs will chirp to alert users that they are closer than six feet, reducing the need to install markers or additional barriers.

“Now there’s no guesswork,” Larson says. “So those individuals that have the greatest risk, we can get them out of the factory and get them tested to make sure that they’re hopefully negative.”

Prior to the solution’s installation, if an employee tested positive, managers were instructed to be overly cautious and send home anyone suspected of having been exposed to that employee.

“Whereas now, with the solution, we’re not sending a lot of people home,” Larson says. Instead, managers can look at the Bluzone system to determine who, if anyone, was actually within a range of exposure and needs to be isolated while awaiting testing.

Larson adds that while he hopes the factories will not have to deal with another pandemic, the sites will keep the fobs and the wall plug-ins, which are small enough to tuck away in a storage area.  

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