Homeworking is booming, but not every job can be done from home. This is especially true of manufacturing, which makes up almost 17% of the global economy. And this creates unique challenges.

Factory workers have helped to keep the economy moving and have kept us fed. At the height of the pandemic, UK food manufacturers boosted production levels by up to 50% to meet raised consumer demand. 

But staff need to be protected. And when problems occur, human and business costs can be high. A COVID-19 outbreak at a British meat processing plant resulted in it closing for two weeks – a reminder of the considerable challenges involved in safeguarding people and processes.

Yet with many businesses struggling for resources and personnel, labour-intensive solutions are often unrealistic. This is where Tata Consultancy Services’ Connected Workforce Safety Solution (TCS CWSS) can be an essential solution. 

Adaptable to any environment it can be implemented in around six weeks, providing a management console with analytics to help organisations to drive continuous improvements in their duty of care in the workplace through monitoring, continuously improving and providing auditability for workplace safety.

Temperature checks, face coverings, and hand sanitization may all become the norm in our workplaces. Source: Shutterstock

New solutions

“COVID-19 has reinforced the need for organizations to look beyond their traditional operations and adopt ways to stay resilient by means of intelligent technologies,” says Anil Pai from TCS Enterprise Application Services.

There is certainly a need for fresh thinking. Consider the multiple points of risk in the manufacturing environment during the crisis, between entrance and exit. From the proximity often required on production lines to accidental close contact in changing rooms and restaurants, not only is there potential for transmission, it is also hard to detect using traditional techniques. 

TCS CWSS was developed to provide a rapid, real-time solution to help de-risk these complex situations. At its core it is a digital safety fence, one that creates secure, smart barriers in workplace environments – and not just around the perimeter. This is how it works. 

Digital safety fencing

The TCS Connected Workforce Safety Solution. Source: TCS

First, there are entry and exit checks. Thermal imaging cameras scan workers to check for raised temperatures. This and other data is fed into an employer’s insights dashboard. 

Second, advanced AI is paired with cameras to spot whether all personal protective equipment (PPE) items are being worn. If not, an alert is issued.

Third, social distancing is monitored throughout the day by light detection and ranging technology and Bluetooth low energy beacons, which link to TCS software on employees’ mobile phones, or tags and wearables, to track proximity. Alerts are issued if two-metre distances aren’t observed. 

Fourth, wearables provide monitoring of vital signs and spot trends that could indicate COVID-19, such as raised body temperature. Heart rates are also monitored.

Fifth, and finally, all this data comes together in the TCS Connected Worker Safety Solution platform, helping enterprises across retail, manufacturing, banking, pharma, CPG industries create real-time contact tracing insights about employees. Whether employees are stationed in one location or moving between various locations like an office, manufacturing plant or worksites during their workday, it will identify someone who has had contact with other staff with virus exposure and who may now be at risk.

Taking responsibilities seriously

As the pandemic has spread, governments around the world have raced to develop contact tracing software

These open attitudes to the use of our personal data likely reflect the extraordinary times we are living through. Nonetheless, to ask employees and employers to take part in digital fencing is not something undertaken lightly. The compliance of TCS CWSS with the European data protection and privacy General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has therefore been designed into the system.

In return for this trust, the system is designed to be an enabler, appropriate for real-world conditions. Accidental breaches of two-metre social distancing will likely occur from time to time and the emphasis is on helpful reminders, encouragement, and advice. For those in at-risk health groups, the benefits are potentially lifesaving. 

TCS Connected Worker Safety Solution platform helps businesses stay safe when they can’t stay home. Source: Shutterstock

Keeping the lights on

TCS CWSS is increasingly being rolled out beyond manufacturing. It’s not only employees in factories and offices who often need to work closely together, to be out and about rather than working from home. Essential ‘field service’ professionals – the people who keep the lights on, drains unblocked and the internet functioning – are also benefiting from digital fencing technology. 

“Historically, field service organizations have been slowed down by legacy systems and manual processes and this is not acceptable, especially in the new normal in the field,” says Arka Dhar, Chief Executive of Zinier, a leading field service automation company. 

Zinier has partnered with TCS to create software that helps protect workers and enables them, together with employers and clients, to navigate the challenges COVID-19 has created. Remote teams now have digital tools that help them with checks like verifying PPE, while their schedules automatically factor in social distancing. Likewise, executives have real-time oversight of any problems as soon as they occur.

As the pandemic continues, both field service occupations and manufacturing have revealed themselves to be difficult to do safely without strict monitoring and employees support. And if done properly, this monitoring is deeply complex. The new situation demands fresh thinking, and new tools for the job. The health of workers and the global economy depends on it.