Safeguarding workers amid Covid-19

30 August 2020
The health crisis caused by Covid-19 has reinstated the value of the construction industry’s most critical resource: people

This article is extracted from the report 'UAE Construction After Covid-19'

How do you socially distance workers on a construction site? That is the question contractors have been struggling with ever since the Covid-19 virus began its deadly spread around the world and in the UAE.

Besix, the largest Belgian construction company operating in the Middle East, found their answer in high-technology hard hats. 

Developed by UAE startup WakeCap, the patented- wearable is integrated into existing personal safety equipment including workers’ hard hats – and ID cards for those who do not use hard hats – to visualise, track and record workforce activity in real time.

Besix was already using WakeCap’s internet of things (IoT)-based enterprise solution to improve efficiency on work sites.

WakeCap connects workers

“The helmet sends out a signal every three minutes through which we record the location of the worker at that moment in time,” says Ishita Sood, WakeCap’s co-founder and chief operating officer.

“Before Covid-19, our use case was to record attendance and monitor workers to improve efficiency. But now the client can also access our dashboard to instantly generate a report to contact-trace all the people who have been in close contact with a worker diagnosed as Covid-positive. For example, you will immediately get a list of all the workers patient zero has come in contact with within a distance of two metres for more than 15 minutes.”

Constructing such a list is “not easy”, Sood says, and would otherwise involve a site manager having to manually go over records from prior weeks to identify team members and locations. Such a process would take longer and relies on “making the right guesses”, she adds.

“You know the team was working on the first floor, but what if the worker went to the second floor to rest or meet a friend?” says Sood. “We connect the entire site so we know the location of the worker at any given time. This also helps when deciding on areas to sanitise. Right now, [contractors] sanitise the entire site, but when you have fewer cases you would want to sanitise specific areas.”

Developed by UAE startup WakeCap, the patented- wearable is integrated into existing personal safety equipment including workers’ hard hats – and ID cards for those who do not use hard hats – to visualise, track and record workforce activity in real time.

Gulf states are heavily reliant on the constant supply of blue-collar migrant workers, primarily from nearby South Asian nations, to bring their trillions of dollars-worth of masterplans to life.

In the UAE, where construction has been classified as ‘vital’ to the economy, sites have been exempted from lockdown restrictions to remain operational upon obtaining government permits and implementing strict safety measures. However, positive Covid-19 cases among workers have forced many construction sites to temporarily close.

“Many sites are being shut down, or are [running] without 20 to 30 percent of their workforce,” Sood says. 

“I’ve spoken to 10 to 12 contractors so far and all of them have at least one site with cases, and some of them have multiple sites with cases. A lot of projects are now getting delayed [because] at any given point, there are 200 to 250 workers quarantined ... but if they have a tool that can give them a list of just the 50 workers in contact with patient zero, they wouldn’t need to quarantine all 250.”

Helpful technology

Luis Miguel Monteiro, project director at Besix, says WakeCap’s tool has provided the contractor with a huge amount of data to help take the “best decisions in terms of logistics, crowd monitoring and transportation” during the highly contagious outbreak. 

“Within the current framework of where we are, it’s natural to have some cases considering we are dealing with so many workers,” says Monteiro. “As soon as we started having the first infected cases, implementing all the quarantines and separating people, there [was] a big question mark in terms of how many people do we need to quarantine. There was no clarity on how to do things because this was new for all of us. 

“[WakeCap] showed us that they had developed a dashboard that would allow us to understand how and where and with whom a certain worker was for a certain period of time ... to [precisely] identify and isolate a particular crew instead of isolating a whole section of the job.”

A new extended reality for construction

WakeCap’s technology has always worked as a contact-free attendance system that avoids the use of access cards or fingerprint sensors.

“It’s not possible to enter a site without a hard hat,” Sood explains. “If a worker comes on site he’s automatically checked-in and checked-out, and there’s no need for the workers to stand in line or wait anywhere in close contact with each other.”

The system also makes it possible to monitor occupancy, she adds. For example, if it is preset that only 50 people can enter a lunch area during break time, then the system can alert a site manager if that number has been exceeded.

The UAE government has been sterilising labour accommodations, locking down high-density areas and running mass free testing to screen hundreds of thousands of workers as part of efforts to battle the virus.

WakeCap’s technology has always worked as a contact-free attendance system that avoids the use of access cards or fingerprint sensors.

Monteiro says the success of the technology can be measured by the reduction in the number of cases and the number of quarantines.

“[As] a result of a series of actions that we have taken, which have been supported by the fact that we have data from WakeCap, we were able to segregate and to apply social distancing – and the cases have been dropping and are at a minimum,” he says.

“It is extremely important for construction companies and for the market as a whole that we stay productive and efficient. We do understand that the Covid-19 crisis created a panic around the labour force, but slowly, I believe, with all the actions we have been taking, we have reduced the public health fear factor, and the psychological and safety fear factor.”

Monteiro adds that having data available to demonstrate and highlight to the workers that they are on a safe project is important to their psychological safety as well as to the wider community.

This report is produced under the MEED Mashreq Construction Partnership. To learn more about the report or the partnership, log on to: www.meedmashreqindustryinsight.com

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