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Workplace Thermal Imaging in the Time of COVID

April 13, 2021 | Technology

People and organizations globally are struggling to combat the COVID-19 crisis in all facets. One of the most significant challenges presented to the public is detecting asymptomatic infected people. To date, the fastest COVID-19 test kit can return results in approximately 15 minutes at around $5 per test. Other than a test, febrile screenings have become and remain the quickest way to check for coronavirus symptoms.

As places try a phased reopening, many of them have turned to the hand-held multifunctional body and object infrared non-contact thermometers. However, this type of handheld thermometer requires an employee or security staff to stand at a place of entry and physically stop and check each person before they’re allowed through. Though necessary, stopping and scanning each person’s forehead with an infrared thermometer can be intimidating, time-consuming, and possibly a strain on resources.

To make the febrile screening process smoother, numerous essential workplaces and companies like Amazon have opted to use thermal cameras to screen employees and guests. Using thermal cameras is not a new practice. Organizations also used these technologies to conduct febrile screening during the swine flu, MERS, and SARS outbreaks. But with Covid-19’s sweeping and highly contagious nature, not to mention how disruptive it has been to nearly every facet of our lives, the demand for infrared technology has skyrocketed. According to Global Market Insights, the infrared camera market is projected to grow from $6 billion to 10 billion by 2026.

Automated Temperature Screening Technology Powered by Artificial Intelligence

While many organizations simply use thermal infrared cameras and monitors to screen people, large-scale temperature monitoring technology is the best option for high-traffic areas. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology, these fever screening systems employ thermal infrared cameras but don’t require humans to monitor them. These non-invasive systems are designed to be set up at entrances of public or private buildings, public venues, and workplaces.

When the system detects someone with an elevated fever, it immediately displays a warning, captures an image of the subject, and notifies a responsible party. Its software allows for various configurations, including an established temperature threshold. Any individuals found to be a risk can then have their temperature verified with a medical thermometer. When it comes to contact tracing, this type of technology could prove invaluable in combating the spread of COVID-19 or any other virus we face in the future.

Developing and Following Procedures to Ensure People’s Confidentiality

Before investing in thermal cameras, one should consider current and possible future legislation concerning their use to monitor people’s temperatures. For the most part, the information provided (a person’s body temperature) likely does not fall under any present legislation. This is because, at present, there are no legal issues covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) involving analyzing people’s temperatures. The Organizations that should be aware of temperature legislation are healthcare providers since they are bound by HIPAA rules.

Those organizations required to comply with HIPAA should consider whether thermal cameras violate employees’ and customers’ privacy. And while there may not be any federal data collection laws in the United States, individual states such as California may have state privacy laws pertaining to thermal cameras’ use to record the temperatures.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in particular requires businesses to notify people entering their facilities about any personal information collected by them. This even includes employees’ personal information collected by employers. Thus, for any organization operating in California, whether public or private, it would be prudent to use a CCPA-compliant notice informing people entering their premises that thermal cameras are in use for the purpose of monitoring temperatures.

The Guidance From the CDC Concerning Checking Temperatures During Covid-19

The CDC guidance is pretty straightforward: “Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.”

Despite the government once prohibiting employers from asking their employees about the state of their health, the CDC has changed that in the wake of COVID-19. While it is still limited as to what employers can ask about health, legal experts say they are allowed to inquire about two things: temperature screening and other COVID-19 screening tests when necessary. Further, employees now have the power to prevent employees from working if they suspect that the employee displays symptoms of coronavirus.

The Benefits of Using Thermal Imaging Tools to Screen for COVID-19

The most obvious benefit of using thermal imaging tools to screen for COVID-19 and other similar illnesses is that screeners are not required to be physically present. In actuality, thermal imaging could be done remotely from anywhere, even in a completely different building. This saves organizations time and money in the long run because there is no need to purchase as much personal protective equipment (PPE) or train multiple temperature screeners. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has numerous regulations. These regulations require anyone using handheld multifunctional body and object infrared non-contact thermometers to undergo training.

Thermal imaging systems have proven to be more accurate at measuring temperatures radiating from the skin’s surface. These systems also measure temperatures much faster than other tools available at present. The average forehead and oral thermometer require a close distance or even direct physical contact with the individual being screened. This not only places the screeners in danger of contracting the illness, but the screening tools are in constant need of sanitizing.

The Disadvantages of Using Thermal Cameras to Detect COVID-19

Unlike a COVID-19 test, thermal imaging cannot detect whether people have COVID-19 since not all infected persons present fever symptoms. Additionally, just because someone has a fever does not mean they are infected with the coronavirus. More complete diagnostic tests must be performed to determine a COVID-19 infection.

Another possible downside is that thermal imaging systems require careful set-up and operation for them to function accurately. The issue lies in measuring surface skin temperatures which are normally lower than oral temperatures. Proper adjustments then must be made by the thermal imaging system to correct the differences in measurements. If the person handling the thermal imaging equipment and software is not well-trained, there is a greater possibility for results to be incorrect.

Benefits Beyond Thermal Imaging

If combating the potential risks associated with the 2020 pandemic has taught us anything, it is this—when the need for health screening is over, the value of workplace flexibility and innovative technology will go the distance.

As in the case of technologies needed to battle risk during the pandemic, flexible design has proven to be a critical component of workplace sustainability. The Gridd® adaptive raised floor by FreeAxez is a highly innovative cable management system designed to evolve with your business and to easily and quickly conform to your space and technology needs as many times as you need. You can even pick it up and move it with you to a new location.

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