Social Distancing and PPE Is Here to Stay

Computer Vision is an Ideal Way to Enforce It

In December, The New York Times asked about 700 epidemiologists as to when they thought we could return to a normal, non-mask-wearing world. Surprisingly many of them responded with a resounding never.1  

Several of them commented that wearing masks will feel normal in time. But other epidemiologists disagreed, noting that mask wearing will decline in the summer or fall of 2021. Anyone who has traveled in East Asia will note that mask wearing has been a normal experience for years and seen as a common-sense means to avoid spreading the flu and other viruses. But mask wearing has been politicized in America and somehow seen as a sign of weakness, especially with more conservative men. 

While mask wearing may become optional for some, the need will not go away any time soon. New variants of Covid-19 continue to emerge and then spread quickly. In addition, there is a strong and growing anti-vaccine faction that will never voluntarily submit to inoculations.  

One area that mask wearing and other preventative measures will not be optional is in work environments. OSHA, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) responding to an executive order from the new Biden administration. 2 The NEP is targeting its enforcement on organizations that put large numbers of employees at risk of contracting and spreading the Coronavirus. The NEP will add whistleblower protections for employees who come forward to complain about Covid-related safety violations.

Work environments have a strong incentive to implement safety programs to reduce the risk of outbreaks in their facilities, and one of the most effective ways is through social distancing. In fact, there are several compelling reasons to maintain social distance monitoring after the pandemic subsides:

  1. Virus variants continue to emerge every few weeks.  Some of these variant viruses are much more contagious than the original version of the Covid-19 virus and potentially unaffected by the vaccines available today.
  2. Unless an employer requires all employees to be vaccinated, the minority of unvaccinated employees will present a risk to others. This could increase the risk of litigation by infected employees.
  3. The same computer vision technology used to monitor social distancing can also capture other safety and security violations as well as provide valuable operational data.

Below are examples of how effective computer vision is in detecting and alerting to violations in social distancing. In the three images, the work center goes from a safe environment to a hazardous one.

Atollogy is able to process these images and create dashboards with time stamps. As a default, Atollogy obscures individual identities to protect privacy. This setting can be changed to identify employees in need of additional training. The dashboards can also assist in identifying areas in need of revised layouts and configurations.

Employee morale improves with the knowledge that their management takes safety seriously and has used the latest smart manufacturing technology to enforce it. Another advantage is the reduction in risk, especially when one considers that one infected employee can shut down an entire department for days. For a modest investment, organizations can monitor work areas to detect not just violations of social distancing but a wide variety of safety and security rule violations such as the lack of proper PPE or entering into restricted areas. 

An additional benefit to tracking social distancing in the workplace is the data that is collected on operational monitoring. By utilizing this data in decision making, companies can improve the efficiency in the factories which in turn will increase profitability.

Sources

  1. https://reason.com/2020/12/04/epidemiologists-masks-social-distancing-vaccine-forever-new-york-times/
  2. OSHA National News Release: https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/national/03122021
Author:

 

Anthony Tarantino, PhD

Adjunct Professor, Santa Clara University – Lean Six Sigma and Smart Manufacturing

Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Certified Scrum Master, CPIM (APICS), CPM (ISM)

Senior Industry Advisor to Atollogy

Tony@atollogy.com

atarantino@scu.edu