The easing of restrictions and the return of a 'normal' way of life has seen the rapid escalation of Covid-19 cases. The rise of outbreaks within the community and across workplaces is affecting anxiety levels, and ONS figures reveal that people are more anxious about Covid now than they were at the peak of the pandemic.
A recent study by The Workforce Institute at UKG (Ultimate Kronos group) found that over half of UK workers say their employer is not prepared for a second wave of Covid-19. As we head into colder months and a new period of increased restrictions, employers will need to address employee concerns and expectations to reduce anxiety and restore employee engagement.
Factories and processing plants have seen the highest number of outbreaks. Crowded production lines, loud machinery that people have to shout over and refrigerated environments make an ideal mix of conditions for higher virus transmissions. Across other industries and workplaces, high-traffic areas and shared common spaces such as staircases, conference rooms and break-out areas are a major concern among workers. This highly infectious disease requires people to remain vigilant at all times, which can be challenging with busy workplaces, tight schedules and deadlines to meet.
Mental health organization, TalkOut, has revealed that 68 percent of UK workers feel anxious and apprehensive about returning to work. As well as concerns surrounding virus transmissions, employees are worried about future redundancies and furlough due to the economic instability created by the pandemic. This creates a worrisome scenario, with workers feeling pressured to go to work in fear of losing their job or losing out on pay.
Workplaces play a large role in Covid-19 transmissions
As UK cases continue to rise, there is mounting pressure on businesses to ensure their premises are Covid-secure. Guidelines are set to become legal requirements and businesses can face fines of up to £10,000 or even closure if they don't abide by the rules. HSE officials are conducting unannounced spot inspections to ensure workplace adjustments have been made to safeguard employees and others from the virus.
As well as facing prosecution, businesses that fail to maintain a Covid-secure workplace increase their chance of an outbreak. Any outbreak represents major health concerns and disrupts business operations. In some instances, it results in an entire site or branch closure, putting major projects on hold and costing millions each day in lost production and sick pay. The main contributing factors in outbreaks include lack of social distancing and failure to contain the outbreak early on.
These workplace challenges are a concern for businesses, especially when they can't operate remotely. With many still feeling the impact from the start of the pandemic, they worry that further disruptions will harm their chance of survival. They need to protect the economic stability of the company, while also adapting their working norms to safeguard employee health and safety.
Getting businesses back on track is highly important for the UK's economic revival as well as employment and employee wellbeing. For example, manufacturing is a major contributor to the UK economy, although the latest results report from Make UK show that only 17.8 percent of manufacturers are operating at full capacity.
Tech helping companies win the fight against Covid
Tech providers have been quick to respond to the pandemic by developing new solutions as well as leveraging existing technology to address the safety challenges brought about by the virus. While the Covid crisis continues, these technologies and innovative use cases show the resilience and commitment of tech pioneers to help lessen the impact of the virus, keep people safe and reduce the anxiety around working environments.
The wide-ranging functionalities of AI have made it an invaluable tool to help keep employees safe during the pandemic. Industry.AI, part of renewable energy company BLP, is using AI to analyse video feeds and identify workers who are not following company safety protocols. Using a combination of "visual analytics models, mathematical models and neural network models" they can identify if someone is not wearing appropriate PPE (face covering, gloves, etc.) or breaches social distancing.
Thermal cameras can also pick up if an employee is running a higher-than-average temperature, which issues an alert to the safety officer in charge.
This technology looks to offer a solution to address the constant monitoring of workers to ensure they are wearing the correct safety equipment and enables quick corrective action to mitigate virus transmissions.
Maintaining social distancing can be a challenge in any workplace and will require a degree of behavioral change to ensure its success among employees. In response to this challenge, companies including safety tech provider Tended have leveraged wearable technology to alert employees if they come within a predetermined distance of others via haptic or audible alerts.
Maintaining a safe physical distance is critical to stop transmissions, and precision is highly important in a social distancing device. UWB uses time-of-flight technology to determine the distance between devices to within centimeter accuracy, making it on average 10-50 times more accurate than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It is also unaffected by interference - a major limitation of Bluetooth-based devices.
Tended's solution combines a wearable UWB Hub with a cloud-based dashboard. If employees come within a pre-set distance of others, their Hub will vibrate, reminding them to maintain social distancing. Any distance breaches, and their duration, are uploaded to the dashboard, giving employers a broader view of their workplace behavior. They can also access reliable, privacy-focused contact tracing data in the event of a Covid-19 diagnosis.
Recognizing the importance of employee engagement with any new technology, Tended uses behavioral science to encourage adoption and drive positive behavioral change among workforces.
As new working processes, regulations and restraints can affect employee performance and mental wellbeing, it is crucial to carefully plan the deployment of resources to ensure optimal productivity and reduce the risk of employee burnout. Data analytics can offer insights into the different options employers have for project planning and the implications for each as they balance new demands with evolving workplace constraints.
Analytics can help forecast at what level processes will cease to operate efficiently without having to run them first, which can expose employees to unnecessary risk. It can support businesses with problem solving and predictions, including demand forecast, identifying road-map issues and potential supply-chain disruptions. Employers can continue to update the model based on new demands and restrictions to optimize resources as the pandemic evolves.
Companies who use data analytics to address today's pressing challenges can identify opportunities and uncover value, elevating them into a stronger position to solve short and longer-term problems.
Covid-19 has changed the way we work. There is no certainty around when or whether things will return to how they were pre-pandemic, and organizations are still adjusting to changing guidelines. However, technology is leading the way in addressing these new safety challenges. Rapidly-developed innovations are supporting business operations while protecting employees. With creative thinking, we can continue to develop technology that can limit virus exposure in working environments, reduce anxiety within workplaces and help businesses return to pre-Covid output.
Leo Scott Smith, Founder & CEO, UK Safetytech Tended