Jobsite sensor technology designed for worker safety is finding a new use in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. AECOM Tishman initially chose Triax Technologies’ Spot-R tags to keep tabs on where workers are on the site and to have an instant-alert system for accidents. 

Deployed to the hundreds of workers at the site of the new Four Seasons Hotel in New Orleans, the belt-clip tags have built-in sensors to detect if a worker suddenly falls, and constantly monitor a worker's location on site using a dedicated low-power wireless network. But with the sudden need for new safety and hygiene rules on the jobsite to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Spot-R tags are proving more useful than initially thought. 

“I’ve been a big fan of the Spot-R since we put it in on the job a little over a year ago,” says Rob Sullivan, senior vice president at AECOM Tishman, and a project executive for the Four Seasons project. “But in the past week we’ve found other uses that are helping us to move through this crisis.”

The Spot-R tag is integrated into the hotel site’s access control system, where workers are logged as they pass through the entrance’s turnstile while wearing their tag. This had helped Sullivan’s team perform head counts, but it became especially critical when a worker with a subcontractor tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Because that individual was a foreman, they roamed the site quite a bit, and tracking where they had been in the previous few weeks would be difficult under normal circumstances in a 33-story tower site.

“I was able to pull off the [location] information from their Spot-R for the previous week, and see they were on site for 48.6 hours and how many hours on what floor at any given time,” says Sullivan. “It gave us some guidance to advise the people who think they might have had close encounters with this person during that time.”

After the first case at the site, AECOM Tishman moved as many of the project management staff to work from home as it could, says Sullivan. The hotel project is still ongoing, but many of the workers for the various subcontractors have chosen not to come to the site. “It’s gone from 580-plus people to 175 or so this week,” he says.

While the City of New Orleans has issued a shelter-in-place order, it did exempt essential services, which Sullivan and the project team say includes construction of the Four Seasons Hotel. 

The remaining workers, mostly with HVAC and plumbing subcontractor Gallo Mechanical and electrical subcontractor All-Star Electric, have had to abide by new site safety rules, including maintaining social distancing, and reducing crowding in areas such as entrances and stairwells. Crews are also disinfecting the stairwells, hoist carriages and the project trailer daily, and only a handful of workers are allowed ride in a hoist carriage at one time.

Amid all this, Sullivan is relying on the Spot-R a bit more than he expected. “We can look at the workers on the list and see who is actually there, and if there is a specific guy, I know he’s there and can call him.” While the tags can only track workers' locations across preset floors and broadly defined zones, Sullivan says he is keeping an eye on it to avoid too many people congregating together.

“The real question is whether construction itself can maintain a safe place to work, given that it is hard to keep people apart on a site,” says Robert Constantini, CEO of Triax Technologies.

Constantini says he is hearing from customers who are not only using the Spot-R to help maintain social distancing on sites, but also to trace the movements of workers on sites who may be contagious. “We think that Spot-R has a role to play in doing contact traces among the trades,” he says.