Contact Tracing for Business Explained

Contact Tracing for Business Explained

While public contact tracing apps released by governments have attracted much (negative) attention, business contact tracing solutions play a different but hugely important role in slowing the spread of Covid-19.

Resuming business in the middle of a global pandemic brings many challenges, and among these, the idea of business contact tracing is one of the most misunderstood.

While public contact tracing apps released by governments have attracted much (negative) attention, business contact tracing solutions play a different but hugely important role in slowing the spread of Covid-19.

In recent weeks international cases have highlighted how workplaces can easily harbor large clusters of coronavirus cases, leading to increased community transmission of Covid-19. In one high-profile case in Germany, a business is facing demands from the nation’s Labour Minister to pay damages for driving a surge in cases there after a poorly managed return to work.

These missteps underline the importance of business contact tracing for companies trading in the U.S. – and it is also crucial to recognize workplace safety rule changes like those in Virginia that require businesses to notify workers who have been exposed to a coronavirus-infected colleague within 24 hours.

So, What Exactly is Contact Tracing for Businesses?

It is a process of logging contacts between workers and collating that data so it is ready to be accessed quickly in the event someone becomes unwell with Covid-19 symptoms or tests positive. This allows the organization to respond quickly with its contact tracing—informing and isolating coworkers who may be at risk to protect coworkers and prevent a widespread outbreak having a severe impact on operations.

These solutions are most often deployed via mobile apps or wearables. Business contact tracing will only log contact between the people using the app/wearable and not others from external organizations. Unlike government apps, you can manage the onboarding of staff onto the app, and you have control over the data and contact tracing process so you can react quickly.

There are several parts to these solutions that are important to evaluate from providers:

  • First, automated logging of contacts is key as it reduces the burden of work on the employee. Automated logging uses either Bluetooth or device location (GPS) or both to log contacts between workers in close proximity.
  • In addition to the automated contact logging, manual contact logging is a very useful tool to allow logging contact with non-app/wearable users. How will you collate meetings with clients, suppliers, delivery drivers etc.?
  • For responding quickly to a suspected or confirmed case, data structure is very important. Ideally, your solution provider will deliver individualized contact lists for each worker so your team can get straight to work isolating and informing staff who have been exposed.
  • A solution that also offers a “Daily Wellbeing Screening” gives you the ability to respond early when someone reports unwell, rather than waiting for a positive test result. This time difference can be critical to preventing a larger outbreak in your business.

What About Employee Privacy?

Employee privacy is a valid concern and one that every business should be addressing. The key is to find a solution that does not track employees. Contrary to sensationalized media reports, professional providers of contact tracing solutions will not track a worker’s whereabouts and will log only contact between workers. The solution should also protect a user’s data with encryption and offer them the ability to opt in and out of features. Alignment with a standard such as the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) or California’s CCPA should be expected.

These privacy aspects are critical and can all be found in solutions in the market today. I say that as someone who has been delivering proximity-based safety solutions to businesses since 2015. We simply wouldn’t still be in business today if we didn’t understand these issues and get them right.

Identify Your Needs First

If you are a very small business with fewer than 20 employees, then you can probably manage without an automated solution, even with keeping notes on meetings between your team. If they all work in close proximity due to their work then you can assume all are at risk.

For larger businesses, access/keycard systems will provide you a log of who has been at a site and when—but remember that this does not make the job of contact tracing easy. It does not tell you who has been in touch with whom, how many times and for how long. It also will not calculate second- and third-degree contacts of an exposed worker.

Mobile apps or wearables may be the best fit for your organization, and it depends on a few variables as to which is preferred. For workers who are not allowed mobile devices at their job for safety reasons, the answer is obvious, but for most others, mobile app solutions provide a flexible and useful solution without need for new infrastructure investment.

If you are considering a mobile app solution, make sure the provider you select has an active solution that is deployed in app stores. New businesses have started popping up in recent weeks, and it is unknown whether some have developed solutions yet or not. On the iOS platform, there are challenges with automated contact logging due to limitations Apple has on the operating system, so making sure you understand these and how your provider is working within them is important to ensure the solution is effective.

Kickstart Your Safety Transformation

Overall implementation rates for digital safety solutions remain low, even in mature markets. Therefore, a digital contact tracing project may force a relatively swift first step into personal worker safety.

If this is your situation, consider what else you can get from your contact tracing and wellbeing screening solution provider. If there is capacity to manage other safety reporting to replace paper forms or spreadsheets that have been begging for an update, then this is a good opportunity to get those projects started. In doing so, you will gain not only the cost savings from a combined solution, but also the solution long-term value. Digitizing the old processes can also help drive engagement for your new contact tracing and wellbeing screening solution.

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