A Closer Look at Worker Proximity Tech

"We believe the way people work will change dramatically as a result of COVID-19."

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Norwalk, Connecticut-based Triax Technologies describes their company as a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) tech. Drawing from their core competencies, the company responded to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by developing a wearable device that can help alert manufacturing workers when others are encroaching on recommended safe distancing practices.

Initially developed in response to social distancing challenges in food processing facilities, cloud-based Proximity Trace devices can be affixed to a hard hat or worn on the body. It emits a progressively louder alarm as workers get too close to each other, and in the event that there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, an employer can conduct contact tracing using historical data captured by the device to identify those who might have been exposed. 

We recently sat down with Triax vice president Lori Peters to discuss the technology and how workers are responding to it. 

Jeff Reinke, editorial director:  Some plant workers see these tools as a “Big Brother” type of technology. How would you respond to that, and what has been the overall response of plant workers to this tool?  

Lori Peters, VP, Triax Technologies: We developed Proximity Trace as a tool to help workers feel safe returning to work. The feedback we’ve received from workers, across a broad range of industries, has been overwhelmingly positive. They’re finding that the proximity alerts are quite effective at helping them adapt to the new way of working. We were very focused on worker privacy when we developed Proximity Trace. No location data is being collected and there is no offsite location monitoring. 

Some clients even choose to anonymize their workers in the system with select individuals responsible for running contact trace reports and notifying those who are potentially infected if a positive case is identified in the workplace. At the end of the day, our goal is to limit the number of close contact interactions in the workplace to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while helping facilities operate safely. 

JR: Could you describe the implementation process? 

LP: We’ve developed a self-service deployment model that enables clients to plug in and turn on a very minimal amount of network hardware and easily assign TraceTags, our worker wearable, to the workforce. Gateways for collecting close worker interactions are placed at entrances, exits and high traffic areas. A typical self-installation process takes just a few hours. Each worker is then issued a TraceTag that is unique to them. 

TraceTags are able to emit a real-time progression of audible/visual alerts when workers are in close proximity. Close proximity interactions, including duration, are recorded on the TraceTag until it gains connectivity to the gateways, and interaction data will then be transmitted to the cloud. 

Our Client Engagement team will remotely support each site through on-site logistics, self-installation, dashboard training, and worker onboarding. Devices will need to be recharged every few months. We monitor device battery life and provide regular reports when TraceTags are in need of charging, making this a low-maintenance solution. 

JR: What type of data is contained within the platform? Are there any security concerns? 

LP: A user profile is setup for every worker and the default settings include first name, last name, and company, however all worker profiles can be anonymized at the client’s discretion. The data being stored in our platform includes attendance, a timestamp of worker interactions, and duration of interactions, as well as participants. All generated data older than 90 days is removed from our system.

IoT security is a serious concern today, and recognizing this, we have engineered security into every level of our solutions. Critical data over our wireless network is encrypted, and every device is authenticated before being allowed to join the network. Communication between our gateways and our cloud servers is protected by industry-standard security to prevent both eavesdropping and tampering with data. Because our devices use their own network connection, they are isolated from any customer network, providing an added layer of security to our end users. 

JR: What type of investment are plants looking at with Proximity Trace? 

LP: Proximity Trace costs less than $1 per day per worker (for an average facility with 100 workers and a duration of 6 months). 

JR: Going beyond the current state of things, are there applications for this tool outside of COVID-based concerns? 

LP: Yes, this solution can be used to support corporate policies around worker practices during the traditional flu season or other communicable illnesses, as needed. We believe the way people work will change dramatically as a result of COVID-19 and these changes can have a significant impact on the health of a workforce that traditionally works in very close quarters. 

Additionally, the components of Proximity Trace were adapted from our core Spot-r technology, a worker safety and labor management platform, so the hardware can be repurposed for that use as well.

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