Updated: May 10, 2021
Close Contact Logging is going to be a feature of our working environment for perhaps two years, but most Irish businesses are not effectively logging Close Contact Events. In this blog we will explore the topic of Close Contact Logging - we will expose the issues and provide valuable advice for ensuring your Close Contact Logging efforts protect your staff and your site.
Poor Close Contact Logging is troubling at this time when COVID-19 cases in Ireland are rising at an alarming rate, doubling almost every two weeks, perhaps pushing us closer to Level 4 or 5 restrictions, and workplace outbreaks are on the rise (currently numbering 157 since the start of the pandemic and rising at a rate of over 10% per week - Source: HPSC).
Naturally, there has been a lot of innovation in this space in the last few months and there are some exciting technical solutions available on the market now which we will cover in our next blog "5 Options for Close Contact Logging".
If you want to learn more about the basics of Close Contact Logging and employers responsibilities, visit our earlier blogs.
10 Problems with Close Contact Logging (and some ways to address them)
Problem 1: No guidance on logging tools
While the authorities have outlined the expectations for Close Contact Logging for all workplaces, they have not advised on how the logging should be done. This is not surprising as there is a wide spectrum of business types and sectors covered by these guidelines and the vast majority of businesses in Ireland are SME’s with smaller numbers of employees.
However, as the number of employees rise, Close Contact Logging becomes more administratively heavy and challenging and more sophisticated tools will be required to log events effectively.
Problem 2: Manual Data Entry
A micro-business (with fewer than 10 employees) may be able to effectively log Close Contacts in a diary or paper log but businesses with hundreds or even thousands of employees require more sophisticated methods.
For the vast majority of workplaces, Close Contact Events are manually entered into a spreadsheet. This is a problem for leaders and management teams of larger organisations for several reasons:
- You need to determine who enters the data and who has access to the data?
- How frequently do they enter the data?
- How do you make sure every interaction is captured?
- How do you know when you have gaps in data?
- How do you protect personal information?
- How do you maintain consistent recording?
- How do you ensure that contractors or visitors interactions are captured?
Problem 3: Subjectivity
Don’t take me up the wrong way on this… but one man’s two meters is another man’s one meter.
What I’m trying to say is that measuring distance and time is entirely subjective – people’s ability to perceive distance and time vary from person to person. If you ask two people if were speaking at a 1.5m distance for 20 minutes if they had a close contact event, one might say yes and the other no – or more worryingly, neither might say yes.
This is a significant problem that manually entered data can not address. It can only be done by automatic Close Contact Logging by removing the human subjectivity.
Problem 4: Manual Data Entry Systems are Error Prone
Irrespective of what manual system you might go with, manual data entry systems are, by their nature, error prone. Data entry errors, misspellings, omission errors, content errors, incorrect selections, date/time errors, blanks, algorithm errors, deletions – all will contribute to inaccurate reporting and potentially perilous decision-making.
If you are building or buying a manual data entry system, ensure that it is airtight in terms of error proofing.
An automatic Close Contact Logging system (like SureTraceID) does not have these problems.
Problem 5: Gaps in manually entered data (and how to fix them)
As I’ve described above, subjectivity will lead to gaps in data and there are few measures that one can take to change people’s perception. But consistent messaging and guidance can be a powerful motivator. Education on how to effectively log events should be communicated sitewide and to contractors and visitors.
Naturally, gaps are difficult to pick up on – how can you know there’s a gap when there’s an absence of data?
Two techniques you could employ for a manual data entry system are what I call Daily (or Negative Event) Logging and Event Concurrence.
Daily (or Negative Event) Logging means that it would be a site policy to submit a log every day that a person spends on site, irrespective of whether or not they’ve had a Close Contact Event i.e. you’re also submitting that you have not had a Close Contact Event. If you have Negative Event Logging in place and compare with your actual daily on site numbers, you should have at least one log for every person on site.
Note: If you have Close Contact Events happening, you should have at least 2 logs for every Event (one for each party). There should be logs for each unique Close Contact Event also i.e. not grouped together.
Event Concurrence is a technique (developed by PRODIGEO Ltd.) whereby when a Close Contact Event is logged, the other party to the Event is notified and asked to concur. In practice, this is challenging and would require a custom built system (which can be done). What you are setting up is akin to the Prisoners Dilemma but in reverse - it's in each parties favour to tell the truth!
And that brings me to my next point – there should be no shame, blame and certainly no punishment attached to logging Close Contact Events (of course, they should be avoided if possible but they happen and are, in certain circumstances, unavoidable). Leaders should be encouraging staff to log Close Contact Events in as great a level of detail as practical.
Automatic Close Contact Logging systems do not suffer from gaps as long as everyone on site wears a device. If a wearable for everyone on site is not an option, a deployment might involve the protection of a “high-value” cohort of employees (for example, frontline operators producing high value assets) who work in a “bubble”. This cohort would all wear devices and their interactions would be recorded automatically, but this is only possible if those employees have no other interactions with anyone outside their bubble.
Problem 6: Tracking/Tracing
Ideally, if an employee reports as symptomatic you need to be able to interrogate your database and find all of the Close Contact Events that that colleague had in order to inform and instruct those close contacts.
If there are errors, gaps or omissions, or if your tool is inadequate or poorly built, tracking and tracing could be an issue.
If you can reduce those shortcomings in your logging system and increase the effectiveness and frequency of your logging (through Event Concurrence and Negative Event Logging) then you can have more confidence in your ability to track and trace.
Or you can use an automated Close Contact Event logging system.
Problem 7: Analysis
Reporting on Events is important and can help to inform management on logging performance and encourage staff to improve and maintain performance.
Dashboarding key metrics for analysis, decision-making, communication, and display should be an objective of Close Contact Logging efforts but it is not straightforward from your standard Excel workbook and would require advanced Excel skills to develop a functioning dashboard suitable for sharing. Sophisticated dashboarding tools like PowerBI or Tableau could be deployed against your Excel database but again would require advanced development capabilities.
Automatic Close Contact Logging systems have sophisticated analysis, reporting and interrogation functionality built-in.
Problem 8: Bluetooth Low Energy Apps
We covered the Irish governments’ recently released the COVID Tracker App in a previous blog, and while some employers might think that this app can log events, that is not correct. It logs events to a national database that is not searchable by employers and can not be used as a substitute for site Close Contact Logs.
Furthermore, the technology that these apps operate on is known to be unreliable and inaccurate. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tech is susceptible to signal disruption from an array of sources, and since it judges distance by gauging signal strength from the transceivers it is only accurate to 1 meter. Effectively, if you were standing 2 meters from someone with this tech, the device would not know if you were 3 meters or 1 meter away.
(oh, and it would only work if the other party has their phone on their person, has the app downloaded and the Bluetooth turned on – that’s a lot of if’s!)
Problem 9: Privacy
Protecting your employee’s personal information is a responsibility of every business and is also covered by the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation. A poorly designed manual data entry system can easily result in the inadvertent communication of personal information.
A good tip to avoid this is to use ID numbers or other non-personal identifiers for data entry, tabulation and reporting. This is a little more problematic with manual data entry systems but automatic systems can smoothly handle this data through their advanced configuration capabilities.
Problem 10: Personal Phone Use
If an organisation wishes to introduce a more sophisticated Close Contact Logging tool (than a spreadsheet) that has some automatic Close Contact Logging functionality their choices are limited to;
Wearables – with either BLE or UWB technology
BLE (automatic) with manual data entry functionality
Or fully manual data entry systems
There are several prerequisites for an effective Close Contact Logging program to work using smartphones:
All personnel on site must use it for it to be effective
The phone must be carried at all times
The app must be downloaded and enabled
Bluetooth must be turned on at all times (power drain)
Also there are some issues with using smartphones;
employees may not have company phones and may object to using their personal phones for Close Contact Logging
employees may not be allowed to carry their smartphones in certain areas (cleanrooms for example)
employees may forget to carry phones
how does the site manage visitors and contractors?
there is a significant learning and adoption curve
Suffice it to say, this approach is riddled with challenges and should only be considered in limited circumstances.
Close Contact Logging is going to be a feature of business for two years and it is a requirement for all businesses to log Close Contact Events effectively. But most businesses rely on spreadsheets to log Close Contacts without recognising the array of weaknesses in this approach including gaps in data, errors, subjectivity, privacy concerns, reporting and analysis functionality.
Automatic Close Contact Logging removes these weaknesses but is yet to be adopted by a large portion of Irish businesses. It is well known that Bluetooth is not a reliable or accurate technology for Close Contact Logging but another tech, Ultra-wide Band technology is much more reliable and has the most advanced functionality of anything on the market.
If your business is interested in learning more about these topics or about the technologies mentioned in this article, please get in touch using the contact details below.
t: +353 21 234 8387
m: +353 85 154 8875
The author is a business consultant and COVID-19 technical specialist. PRODIGEO Ltd. is a channel partner of VisionID, the developer of SureTraceID UWB technology.