As UK industry tries to get back to some form of working normality, social distancing measures are still to be encouraged. Adam Offord finds guidance and products to help with social distancing in an industrial setting?

As the UK lockdown over Coronavirus continues to ease, many workers from across industry have begun returning to their places of work.

The government has issued guidance on working safely during Coronavirus, which highlights practical actions for businesses to take. These are based on five steps: carrying out a Covid-19 risk assessment; developing cleaning, hand washing and hygiene procedures; helping people to work from home where possible; maintaining a 2m social distancing where possible; and managing the transmission risk where people cannot be 2m apart (www.is.gd/gowasa). It also offers more in-depth guidance for a range of different types of work based on these steps (see below and box).

At the time of writing this article, Prime Minister Boris Johnson commissioned a review into the 2m (6ft 6in) social distancing rule in England (www.is.gd/yikehe), and subsequently, on 23 June, announced that the distancing rule would change from 4 July to 1m plus (www.is.gd/izohan). The government guidance mentioned above has since been updated to reflect this change.

“Having considered all of the evidence, while staying at 2m is preferable, we can now move to 1m plus where it is not possible for us to stay 2m apart,” said Johnson. “That means staying 1m apart plus mitigations which reduce the risk of transmissions.”

FACTORIES, PLANTS, WAREHOUSES

As mentioned earlier, the government offers Coronavirus guidance for a range of different types of work. One is aimed at people who work in or run factories, plants and warehouses (www.is.gd/uyosus). It defines factories, plants and warehouses as industrial environments, such as manufacturing and chemical plants, food and other large processing plants, warehouses, distribution centres and port operations.

“This document is to help employers, employees and the self-employed in the UK understand how to work safely during this pandemic, ensuring as many people as possible comply with social distancing guidelines (2m apart, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, is acceptable). We hope it gives you a practical framework to think about what you need to do to continue, or restart, operations during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the guidance states.

It explores the five steps mentioned above – in the context of factories, plants and warehouses – as well as other key topics, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings, inbound and outbound goods and workforce management.

Detailed within the social distancing section of the factories, plants and warehouses guidance are additional steps covering: coming to work and leaving work; moving around buildings and worksites; workplaces and workstations; meetings; common areas; and accidents, security and other incidents.

“You must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible,” the guidance says. “Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff.”

Mitigating actions that may be used when social distancing cannot be followed in full may include:

  • Further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
  • Keeping activity time involved as short as possible
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’.

“Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms and canteens and similar settings. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain social distancing and workers should be specifically reminded,” the guidance adds.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also offers guidance across its website, including information for the manufacturing sector on returning to work during Covid-19, which covers risk assessments, machinery and building safety and protecting people (www.is.gd/izexot). Social distancing in the workplace is also covered (www.is.gd/iwizuj). HSE says that it is constantly reviewing the fast-moving situation with its partners across government.

WEARABLES

Of course, many factory, plant and warehouse operations have already been carrying out these measures as they continued to operate throughout the lockdown to help fight against the Coronavirus crisis (www.is.gd/rihofe), as well as supply, feed and keep the nation healthy. More are now set to join them in adhering to the recommended precautions, as we move back into the business environment.

Luckily, system and technology developers also began to adapt and design products – both during and after lockdown – to help businesses across industry keep employees safe with additional mitigation measures. Thermal imaging camera manufacturers, for example, began to offer their products for fever screening purposes. There was also a push on the social distancing front.

Asset tracking specialist Pathfindr developed a wearable personal safety device to assist workplaces in meeting social distancing protocols. Following testing with UK manufacturers, the Safe Distancing Assistant has been launched as a training and enforcement device for safe personal distancing in the workplace, including factories, warehouses, logistics hubs and construction sites.

The device, which is worn on a lanyard or attached by clip, is said to use ultra-wideband, low-power technology to scan for nearby colleagues, providing a full 360-degree field of detection. The devices then emit a short audible alarm or vibration when wearers move within two metres of one another. Ben Sturgess, co-founder and CTO at Pathfindr, explains: “The aim of the Safe Distancing Assistant is to enable work to safely continue – providing control to organisations and individuals working within them to prevent the spread of infection.”

Wearables provider ProGlove (main image) also adapted its MARK family of wearable barcode scanners and Connect application for Android to produce a product upgrade that activates proximity sensing for front-line workers in manufacturing, distribution and logistics. When personally equipped with the MARK wearable scanner and paired Android device, workers coming within close proximity of each other are alerted. The alerts come to the workers via a full array of options on the wearable scanner including audio sound, optic LED light, and haptic vibration signals.

Furthermore, Ubisense launched a contact-tracing solution for a range of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, warehousing and logistics, which is said to monitor the real-time location, interactions and status of people, tools and facilities. The Ubisense SmartSpace utilises ultra-wideband mobile tags and fixed sensors so that businesses can alert workers to safe distances and respond to Covid-19 cases by tracking workers or spaces at risk. The firm adds that the technology has been proven for long-term use cases; once implemented within a facility, the technology used for contact-tracing can naturally extend to ongoing evaluation, monitoring and improvement of entire operations.

CAMERA SYSTEMS

Wearables are, of course, just one additional mitigation measure that can be implemented to keep social distancing prevalent in the workplace. Another areas to explore involves camera systems, such as CCTV (closed circuit television) and IP (internet protocol) cameras.

Matthew Marriott, GM for UK, Ireland and Portugal at Stanley Security, explains that electronic security is prevalent throughout business premises to deter crime, but these systems are often multi-functional and may be leveraged to reinforce workplace policies and mitigate health, safety and security risks.

“If your business has a large number of employees you will need to see if it is feasible to provide multiple access points and consider staggering staff arrival and departure times to reduce crowding,” he explains. “A one-way flow process may also be beneficial – the simplest option to have two metre markings on the floor, but this should be monitored. Manned guarding is an option, but it’s expensive and adds to the number of people in the area.

“The alternative is to monitor the queue through CCTV analytical software and combine it with an Audio Talk-down service, where operatives at a remote monitoring centre can issue a live alert.Many CCTV cameras already have two-way audio so you may find you can use your existing security cameras for this purpose.”

Marriott continues: “CCTV video analytics enables you to go one step further, by identifying when people are congregating in too small an area. Crowd video analytics focuses on specific areas, providing an estimation of the number of people present in a given area. The system can generate an alert if the occupancy of an area exceeds a specified threshold. An operative can then communicate with those people advising them tosocial distancing requirements or even to move out of the area altogether.

“Security systems can also be utilised to support other workplace safety measures, including thermal imaging cameras to detect elevated temperatures; proximity and facial recognition systems for non-contact door access; and remote video monitoring of the new drop off points or transfer zones that have been recommended, to prevent people passing things directly to each other.”

Jonathan Harlock, MD of monitoring specialist Sypro, adds that while it can be difficult to maintain social distancing policies in the workplace, IP camera technology will also be a “valuable tool” in helping to keep staff safe and business running smoothly.

The firm has recently introduced a social distancing solution from UbiqiSense that sees sensors installed through IP camera feeds that monitor workspaces through so-called sensing algorithms. This is said to ensure that rooms are not over occupied, see whether people are working too closely together, and link to warning lights or announcements to help people stay safe.

The system can recognise body shapes but not individuals, so staff privacy can be maintained, according to Spyro. A video of the system in action is available at www.is.gd/romeso.

STAY TUNED

This is just a snapshot of the current guidance, mitigation measures and additional product support that businesses working within factory, plant and warehouse settings may find useful when implementing social distancing.

Coronavirus is a fast-moving situation and all businesses should try and keep up-to-date with any announcements and changes. As lockdown is further eased, it is imperative that we all take careful steps to prevent the spread, and resurgence, of Covid-19.

BOX OUT: Other government guidance

  • Guidance for construction and other outdoor work: www.is.gd/towala
  • Guidance for people who work in, or from, vehicles: www.is.gd/lucame
  • Guidance for labs and research facilities: www.is.gd/qiveta

BOX OUT: Safe and productive in warehousing
What intralogistics solutions can keep warehouses Covid-compliant, while allowing staff to work safely and productively? Edward Hutchison, MD of BITO Storage Systems, offers some suggestions.

  • Live storage flow racks: They have a long-established advantage of goods being replenished – often using forklift trucks – from the aisle behind the rack of flow lanes and picked – often by pedestrians – from the aisle in front. Add a conveyor to the pick face and zones can be created to allow a picker to remain within a localised area, being responsible for picking items for an order in that zone before sending the order tote on the conveyor to the next zone.
  • Driverless transport devices: These can offer greater agility than a fixed conveyor when it comes to transferring goods from a pick zone. They can take over transport journeys from staff, allowing them to remain in the pick zones where they are most productive.
  • Mezzanine floors: These can offer a means of creating additional space, quite literally, out of thin air – where warehouse height allows. A structural mezzanine floor with load capacities of up to 1000 kg per square metres can serve a variety of applications – such as office space, multi-tiered order picking or packing areas for multiple benches, to give people the room required for social distancing. Combining a mezzanine with carton flow storage and the integration of suitable conveying equipment, such as powered vertical conveyors or lifts, will certainly optimise warehouse space.