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COVID-19 Return to Work: How to Make Your Workplace Safer with Smart Physical Security Tools

February 09, 2022

As workers return to the office in the midst of Omicron, staying safe in the workplace is top of mind for employers and employees alike.

To create a safer work environment, organizations need to develop and follow COVID-19 workplace policies. The CDC recommends that businesses start by “identifying where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work”.

But how do you identify and assess these health risks at your workplace? In this article, we’ll discuss how smart physical security tools can help you:

  • Identify work areas that are high-risk for viral transmission
  • Make data-driven decisions about COVID-19 health and safety protocols—such as room capacity, mask usage, HVAC settings, cleaning and sanitation, and more
  • Ensure workers, visitors, and customers follow CDC-recommended guidelines such as social distancing and mask usage

Sensors: Monitor indoor air quality to reduce COVID-19 transmission

When it comes to protecting your workplace from COVID-19, a little fresh air can go a long way.

According to ASHRAE, “ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2”. In other words, indoor air quality directly affects the likelihood of transmission. By monitoring air quality and making changes to ventilation where necessary, you can create a safer and healthier work environment.

Environmental sensors like Rhombus’ E2 Sensor let you monitor air quality in real time. The E2 provides data that you can use to make informed decisions about where and how to alter ventilation—and in doing so, reduce the chances of exposure in the office.

Rhombus dashboard E2 environmental air quality sensor carbon dioxide monitor

The E2 sensor monitors many aspects of air quality, including carbon dioxide. You can use CO2 levels to help estimate COVID-19 risk in the workplace.

Here are the key ways that air quality sensors can improve workplace COVID-19 safety:

Monitor carbon dioxide levels as a proxy for viral risk.

Measuring CO2 levels is one of the most practical ways you can determine the risk of spreading COVID-19 indoors.

A 2021 study confirmed that indoor carbon dioxide levels are an effective proxy for the relative risk of COVID-19. As a general guideline, “when excess CO2 levels double, the risk of transmission also roughly doubles”.

Because the E2 continuously monitors CO2 levels in the air, it can give you incredible insight into the relative risk to your workers, customers, and visitors.

While no level is guaranteed to be safe, you can set “safety” thresholds based on your specific workplace setup. If carbon dioxide levels exceed your set thresholds, you’ll receive an instant alert. Armed with that information, you can take immediate action to protect employees—open windows, activate the HVAC system, disperse a crowded room, etc.

Smart Cameras: Use AI analytics to assess risks and increase safety

Modern smart cameras have many AI-based features that can evaluate your work environment quickly, accurately, and at scale.

Good safety policies thrive on that kind of data. With it, you can develop well-informed COVID-19 protocols that fit the unique needs of your work environment.

Rhombus offers many devices, features, and tools—including everything discussed in this article— that help you assess and understand your workplace. It's a unified platform designed to make it easy to monitor and manage your environment so you can make informed decisions about health, security, COVID-19 safety, and more.

Identify high-touch and high-traffic areas with heat maps and people counting

When cameras are “smart”, they add more than just visibility. Smart cameras—with AI analytics—help reveal existing patterns and uncover useful insights about your spaces.

Heat maps and people counting are two AI-based features that can help you understand how people move through your building on a day-to-day basis.

  • Heat maps show you the areas with the most activity. You can review real-time and historical heat maps to identify high-movement and high-touch areas in your workplace.
  • People counting makes it easy to understand how many people move through different areas of your workplace, and when.

Rhombus heat map smart cameras AI video analytics

Use your camera's heat map view to see at a glance where people congregate in your work environments.

This information helps you make educated and data-driven decisions about how to protect your office. You can set more effective safety protocols, including:

  • Increasing sanitation and cleaning in high-touch areas
  • Enhancing filtration and airflow in high-risk and high-traffic spaces: Increase HVAC filters to MERV-13 or higher filters; add portable air cleaners with HEPA filters; add Upper-Room Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) with fans.
  • Enabling better social distancing by reducing the number of people in the same space: Adjust schedules; stagger shifts; modify workstations and communal areas; open additional entrances or rooms.

Enforce safe social distancing with real-time visibility and Maximum Occupancy Alerts

Social distancing should be a core part of every office’s reopening plan, according to OSHA. As a rule of thumb, workers, customers, and visitors should stay 6ft apart when indoors.

These physical security tools can help you monitor and enforce safe social distancing in the workplace:

Real-time visibility makes it easy to safely monitor your workplace from anywhere, at any time. You can quickly and easily check live footage to make sure that safe social distancing practices are being followed.

Case Study: Using Real-time Visibility to Improve COVID-19 Safety in Common Areas

CA Student Living uses the Rhombus platform to help enforce COVID-19 safety protocols and protect resident health. They use smart cameras to remotely monitor their facilities in real-time and make sure that capacity guidelines for amenity spaces—like common areas and gyms—are strictly followed.

“I’m able to see via the cameras how many guests are in an amenity space to ensure we are following capacity guidelines. This has allowed us to keep amenities open, whereas other competitor complexes have had to close,” says Abbie Otto, Senior Property Manager at CASL.

Maximum Occupancy Alerts let you receive automatic notifications when an area becomes too crowded. Alerts come with video clips, so you can get context quickly and determine if social distancing guidelines are being met. You’ll know right away if an area has passed the safe occupancy threshold and can take immediate action to help protect the people in the area.

Comply with CDC-recommended safety protocols by using Mask and PPE Detection.

Face masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses and are recommended by the CDC. They are especially effective for workers who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and don’t know they’re contagious.

If you plan to require face coverings in the workplace, Rhombus Mask Detection helps you automatically monitor mask usage at scale.

Mask Detection uses AI-based video analytics to detect when a person is not wearing a face covering. With it, you can automatically monitor mask usage and receive alerts when masks are not detected.

Rhombus Mask Detection COVID-19 safety AI video analytics

When you enable Mask Detection on a camera, Rhombus will automatically identify and index when a person isn't wearing a face covering.

Mask Detection can be customized to fit your policies—you can use it across your entire facility or enable it on a camera-by-camera basis in high-risk areas.

For example, your COVID-19 safety protocols may require face masks only in places where social distancing is difficult or impossible. You may decide to use Mask Detection solely in high-risk spaces, such as:

  • Conference rooms
  • Elevators
  • Office kitchens
  • Crowded hallways
  • Common areas and other shared spaces

If face mask usage is part of your COVID-19 workplace policies, Mask Detection can help you encourage and regulate safe work practices.

Speed up contact tracing with smart video search.

If an employee contracts COVID-19, it’s important to minimize the spread as much as possible and protect other workers who may have been exposed. The CDC has laid out safety procedures for companies to follow if an employee is suspected to or confirmed to be infected.

One of these recommendations is contact tracing: determining which employees may have been exposed to the virus and notifying them as quickly as possible. This lets people take additional precautions, such as testing and quarantining.

Contact tracing at work can be challenging. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers maintain the confidentiality of the infected worker. If you’re unsure who has had high-risk contact with the affected person, it can be difficult to properly inform other people of their level of exposure.

Smart video search capabilities can greatly improve contact tracing. If your security cameras have facial recognition enabled, your VMS will automatically capture video footage with face data. You can use that information to review the movement patterns and interactions of the infected person.

Rhombus smart video search facial recognition contact tracing

Smart video search lets you quickly and discreetly discover who has been in close contact with an infected person and notify at-risk workers so they can take precautions.

Note: The CDC defines close contact as “within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.”

Putting It All Together: A safer workplace with unified cameras, sensors, and integrations with best-in-class systems

Physical security tools—including cameras, sensors, and AI analytics—are most effective when deployed from a centralized platform.

The Rhombus Physical Security Platform is designed to be that unified solution. With it, you can deploy all of the COVID-19 workplace safety strategies covered in this article—and you can do it from a single pane of glass.

Using integrations to improve and automate workplace safety

Physical security tools like cameras and sensors provide data that can greatly inform your COVID-19 response. But how do you use that data to make your workplace safer?

With the right integrations, your cameras and sensors can trigger other building systems—such as your HVAC system—to activate automatically when needed.

For example, if you have an E2 sensor that detects too much CO2 in the reception area, you can have it:

  • Trigger the HVAC system to increase air flow to that room.
  • Notify an employee via your company’s preferred notification system—Slack, email, SMS, Microsoft Team, etc—with a request to investigate.

If you plan to combine your physical security solution with other essential systems, make sure your chosen platform supports that functionality. Rhombus is integration-friendly and has a robust open API that lets you deeply customize how your physical security system interacts with other systems.

Rhombus workplace office unified platform smart cameras sensors

To learn more about how Rhombus can help you return to work more safely, ask us for a personalized demo.

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