Ontario’s construction industry shows supports for COVID-Alert, but also seeks wearable alternative

Despite broad support from the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario (CDAO) and the Construction Employers Coalition (CEC), members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) remain convinced that without a wearable component to the app, COVID Alert can’t be used by construction workers.

LIUNA, a union representing 95,000 construction workers in Ontario’s – as well as 130,000 construction workers across Canada – has been pushing the federal government to adopt TranSCAN, a digital COVID-19 contact-tracing app, as it features technology that can be carried in a pocket or worn as a bracelet. Smartphones are prohibited on job sites in industries such as construction for safety reasons. TraceSCAN’s solution doesn’t require a smartphone.

Victoria Mancinelli, LIUNA’s director of public relations, told IT World Canada in an Aug. 11 email that LiUNA has decided not to use the federal government’s new COVID-19 tracking app. Instead, it’s adopting Facedrive’s TraceSCAN to create a wearable COVID Alert system suitable for construction sites. The union says it’s conducting a pilot project to test the wearable technology. The pilot project will take place at a worksite in Hamilton, ON, where every employee is assigned a dedicated wearable device for COVID-19 contact tracing. TraceSCAN has developed a custom deployment process to ensure that contact tracing is done completely independent of phone use. As part of the pilot setup, there is a designated station for employees to upload contact history through Bluetooth at the end of each workday. Facedrive Health will provide support in deploying the contact tracing solution, training staff and close monitoring to ensure successful adoption, according to a press release.

Facedrive Health, a division of Facedrive Inc., has been working with the University of Waterloo on TraceSCAN since May 2020. Facedrive Health had previously announced on July 21, 2020, the Windows application available on Microsoft App Store, which features Bluetooth wearable technology integration to support contact tracing efforts at workplaces across the province of Ontario. Initially, it was announced that the TraceSCAN application was available for download by invite-only. However, it is now available for download by any interested member of the public.

In a letter dated June 30th, 2020, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development noted that TraceSCAN can play a significant role in increasing the reach of COVID Alert systems developed by the governments of Ontario and Canada. The Ministry had also noted that it identifies the TraceSCAN app and Bluetooth wearables integration could be valuable for Ontario-wide workplaces where mobile usage is restricted, such as construction sites including the Parliament Hill renovation site in Ottawa.

The Globe and Mail reported Aug. 5 that the federal health minister’s office acknowledged that certain workers, including those in construction, may not be able to use the app during work. But her spokesman encouraged them to use it in their day-to-day lives and in public settings, such as stores, restaurants and parks.

When asked if LIUNA will start using the government’s COVID Alert app if a wearable component is added to it, Joseph Mancinelli, the international vice-president of LiUNA, did not respond.

“Cell phones have been basically outlawed in the construction industry,” Mancinelli told the Globe and Mail Aug. 4. “You are going to omit all of these construction workers – not only LiUNA – but the whole industry, which is hundreds and hundreds of thousands of workers right across the country. So I don’t get that.”

Sandro Perruzza, chair of the CDAO, says testing, tracking, and tracing are crucial for helping prevent a second wave, and for protecting its workers.

“The construction and design industries realized early on that the health and safety of workers is the foundation of any economic recovery. Focusing on the 3Ts (testing, tracking, tracing) will allow Canada to stop reacting and start managing COVID-19,” said Perruzza said in an Aug. 7 press release. “These actions have kept construction workers safe and the industry, as a whole, is at the forefront of our economic recovery.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Sean Erjavec, chief revenue officer at Bridgit.

“In the last 5 years, the construction industry has undergone a technological shift – both in regards to smartphones and wearables. We’ve seen this accelerate even more during the last few months, with contractors wanting to track COVID-19’s impact both from a project and people tracking perspective. Understanding that several job sites do not allow smartphones for safety reasons, having a wearable variation of the tracking app is an excellent option,” Erjavec told IT World Canada in an email.

The recent construction activity index from Procore shows that the Canadian construction activity dropped 41 per cent from March to April and is now recovering. But the worry now is the impact this may have on the dreaded second wave of the novel coronavirus within the industry if proper contact tracing technology is not put in place. Also, across the provinces for which data is available, Procure says worker hours dropped through March to a low of 41 per cent below baseline the week of April 6. All the provinces were all above the baseline as of the week of July 27.

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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the river Yamuna on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing fanatic who also loves to prepare delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not. Can be contacted at [email protected] or 647.695.3494.

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