Updated: May 10, 2021
The Irish government recently released the COVID Tracker App to much fanfare - thankfully, it was well-received, reaching 1 million plus downloads in less than a week.
Some employers might think that this app can help them be compliant with Return to Work Guidelines - that is not correct. In practice, regulations published by multiple agencies in Ireland stipulate that employers must keep a "contact log" for their workplace and while the COVID Tracker App does have it's uses, it does not log Close Contact Events, at least, not in the way that is required for workplaces.
So, this raises a series of questions:
what exactly is a Close Contact?
what is the difference between Close Contact Tracing vs. Logging?
what exactly does the COVID Tracker App do?
how can you make sure your business is compliant with the Return to Work Guidelines?
We're going to help answer those questions below.
What is COVID-19?
Unless you've been on a silent retreat for months you probably know that COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory virus that has swept the globe. It is passed from person to person through tiny droplets of water vapour; most commonly these droplets exit the body by coughing or sneezing or by touch transfer from the nose or mouth to a surface.
In practice, this means the closer you are to someone who is infected, the more likely you are to contract the virus from them. Hence, the directive for employers is to prepare their sites to encourage and enforce "social distancing" i.e. keeping at least two meters distant from other people.
To do this, employers are instructed to enable their workforce to work from home where possible, and where it's not possible to establish measures to ensure social distancing is practiced and close contact events are reduced or eliminated in the workplace. Naturally, these measures not only apply to employees but anyone on site, including contractors, clients, customers or visitors.
But the regulations go further than that; employers must update safety procedures, deploy physical measures, enhance occupancy planning and work scheduling, and implement "Contact Logging" - unfortunately, many businesses are falling short on the last, and perhaps most critical measure.
What is a Close Contact? And what is the difference between Close Contact Tracing vs. Logging?
Definition: Close Contact (in the workplace)
Any individual who has had greater than 15 minutes face-to-face (less than 2 meters distance) contact with a case, in any setting.
Definition: Contact Logging
All organisations, and where possible individuals, should keep a contact log for which the objective should be zero instances of “direct contact” for each day spent in the workplace.
This information should be stored securely, maintained centrally and readily available upon request. Such information may be requested by the authorities to assist with contact tracing.
Definition: Contact Tracing
The process of identifying persons who may have come into contact with an infected person (“contacts”) and the subsequent collection of further information about these contacts.
Contact Tracing, in Ireland is carried out by specialist teams in Contact Tracing Centres around the country and managed by the HSE. Typically, the health services identify who has been in close contact with someone who has an infection to see who may be at risk of catching it. In the case of coronavirus, it is about:
• Identifying who someone diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in contact with;
• Identifying the extent of that contact;
• Establishing if that person is at risk of catching the virus themselves, and providing them with advice;
• Engaging in active follow up and referring close contacts for testing
So, if employers' contact logs are not appropriately recorded or sufficiently detailed, they will be relatively useless to the Contact Tracing team.
So, what exactly does the COVID Tracker App do?
The Irish government's app is based on Bluetooth technology - essentially, this means that any smartphone can be used as a sensor that detects and remembers any close contact interactions with any other smartphone. And if someone reports with symptoms, these events can be used to identify and notify anyone who might have been in close proximity with the symptomatic person.
But there are several issues with this approach for an employer;
all employees/users must first download the app
Bluetooth must be turned on in order for it to work
employers are also responsible for logging instances for anyone who visits their premises - so, visitors must download the app and turn bluetooth on
there are some privacy issues with this type of technology (which we don't need to get into here)
older smartphones can't run the app
the location accuracy is not always 100% reliable and accurate
employees may not be able or allowed to carry their phone at all times
For these reasons the COVID Tracker App may not be an effective way to conduct Contact Logging in the workplace - or at least, there are barriers to its effectiveness.
How can you make sure your business is compliant with the Return to Work Guidelines?
In practice, employers must go further than the average citizen. The HSA need to see demonstrable evidence that employers are effectively logging Close Contacts in the workplace and have an efficient way to identify the close contacts of any employee that reports with symptoms of COVID-19.
In our work as COVID-19 Consultants we have found that some sites are actually using paper logbooks to record instances of close contact - this is a woefully inefficient and potentially perilous approach to this grave challenge.
Paper records may not be immediately accessible to all employees, administration and storage is problematic, entries may provide insufficient detail, and cross-referencing for Close Contact Events can be difficult and error prone.
For businesses who are serious about their COVID-19 measures, the following four solutions are recommended;
Excel spreadsheet trackers - (download our free template below) stored in a shared location can improve accessibility and isolating events
Smartphone Apps (like TracePro Lite) allow manual data entry of Close Contact Events and even have Event Concurrence (where the identified party needs to concur with registered events)
Workplace/desk Management Software (like SmartWay2) - these enterprise-level platforms allow site leadership teams to define and control occupancy for the entire site. Management and/or employees are required to book their workspaces in advance and record is kept of where they worked and with whom they shared a workspace
Wearables (SureTraceID) - These devices (wristbands or lanyards) vibrate to notify the wearer they are within 2m of another person and all Close Contact events are logged automatically.
If you or your organisation needs further support or advice on any of these technologies or on custom solutions, please get in touch - we can help.
m: +353 85 154 8875