As winter approaches this year, what seemed like it could be a short disruption back in March is set to continue. As of October 2020, businesses across the UK are having to adapt once again to new tiered lockdown restrictions. While many businesses and their people can work from home to lessen the risk of infection, this is simply not possible for many businesses. There is also the added pressure that many people are now struggling to work from home, eager to return to some kind of office environment.
The trouble here is that the methods for effectively managing this virus are limited, with prevention measures mostly taking the form of social distancing, face masks and hand washing. While these are each essential in a Covid-19 prevention policy, they are perhaps not the complete picture. The question is how can we expand our preventative measures and boost employee confidence in office/site working protocols while maintaining the necessary social distancing measures.
From the beginning of the pandemic, businesses in a range of sectors began to test thermal imaging solutions as a method of screening for high body temperatures, one of the common signs of this virus. In fact, sales of thermal imaging cameras capable of temperature detection have soared since the beginning of the pandemic. You may have seen a number of headlines discussing the pros and cons, with airports and hospitals among the first to test and roll-out the technology. But how effective really is thermal imaging? How can it be implemented? And can we rely on it?
If you’re looking for methods of keeping your people healthy and avoiding the risk of costly closures, here’s what you need to know.
How thermal imaging works
In simple terms, thermal imaging technology enables you to see an object’s radiating heat. Cameras assign different temperatures of objects within their view with a particular shade of a colour. This is made possible by the detection of infrared light at different levels that is often invisible to the naked eye.
Inside a thermal camera are lots of measuring devices called microbolometers that capture infrared radiation. Each microbolometer records the temperature and then assigns that pixel to an appropriate colour. This is the reason why thermal imaging resolutions always appear low, with around 640×480 for the very best of thermal cameras. To provide a skin temperature, these cameras are calibrated so that they can display accurate within ±0.5˚C temperature readings of the forehead of individuals.
Some of the smartest devices pair thermal imaging with other functionality, being deployed on metal detectors at airports, or with facial recognition capability (or ID card detection) for non-contact access control and even facemask detection.
Hikvision is one of the leading and best-selling manufacturers of these smart thermal imaging devices, each designed for the speedy yet accurate detection of elevated skin surface temperatures. They use thermal and conventional lenses and sensors, sounding alerts when anyone passing the camera exhibits a temperature in excess of a certain range, allowing those with higher temperatures to seek further screening. Hikvision platforms are being deployed the world over, with many already used in a wide range of environments, from airports to hospitals, construction sites and nursing homes.
Is thermal imaging really effective?
The simple answer is yes, thermal imaging is effective for pre-screening temperatures, but only if we understand its limitations. In understanding those limitations, it can be deployed to greatest effect, bringing the greatest benefits to employee confidence and reduction in infection risks.
According to the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration), thermal imaging systems can provide fast skin surface temperature readings with accuracy while maintaining social distancing rules. The caveat here is that temperature-based screening is not a way of definitively saying someone has Covid-19, given that a fever is not always present and a full diagnosis can only be attained with a test. However, with the right setup, this temperature-based screening becomes a safer way to screen for possible symptoms, and one of the few methods of pre-screening before that person enters the premises.
Thermal cameras need to be deployed in a location where the ambient temperatures are not raised and placed where they will have the best chance of reading temperature at forehead height. Following implementation guidelines from your supplier and manufacturer is the key to making sure that your thermal imaging solution is situated correctly and will provide the most accurate and consistent readings.
Before you make any decisions on choosing to implement the technology, we recommend being very clear with how it can and can’t be used.
Thermal screening cameras cannot definitely detect coronavirus or fevers. They can, however:
- Provide fast and accurate within ±0.5°C skin temperature readings
- Provide a non-contact screening method
- Automatically alert if a temperature is elevated
- Give a history of all screening conducted, providing a simple audit trail
- Depending on the solution, screen many people at once, or individuals at speed
So, thermal cameras are not designed to be medical devices, but instead to provide effective pre-screening at low risk to employees with the contactless nature of the screening. With the current pandemic far from over, and businesses implementing thermal imaging across the UK and globally, it’s clear that the technology is here to stay. The key thing to remember is that it will only be as useful as your implementation and your understanding of its limitations. With that established, thermal imaging can be of great help to businesses in improving preventative measures, along with boosting employee confidence in those protocols.
The different types of thermal monitoring solutions
There are a number of suppliers of thermographic imaging solutions that now come with a range of smart features. At Elite Digital, Hikvision is our manufacturer of choice as an industry-leader with the greatest range of solutions adaptable for different locations and industries.
These range from hand-held devices, mounted turrets or bullet cameras that can also be used for regular security, metal detectors with thermal cameras built-in to standalone smart devices with access control and facemask detection.
With standalone platforms like the Hikvision DS-K5604A-3XF, ongoing management is kept to a minimum, with all the work effectively done for you by the self-screening, standalone system. Though there are of course benefits to this self-screening method, requiring far less management, they may not be appropriate in all situations. If you need to be on the go, then handheld is the way to go, especially when paired with a tripod for mounting.
The video below is a useful introduction to some of these solutions in action:
Implementing a thermal imaging solution
Each of the above thermal imaging systems relies on the right implementation and ongoing management. Once you have decided to implement a temperature screening solution, it’s time to plan the roll-out. On top of your implementation, you need to consider the procedure to follow if someone presents with a fever. If you have an HR department, they will benefit from the advice given by the CIPD on taking temperatures at work. The following list of questions is a useful framework to follow during your implementation:
- What is your process for monitoring the screening? Who will manage it?
- Where will you point visitors who may need to seek medical advice or a test?
- Create a consent form for your staff members
The ultimate goal for most in implementing a thermal imaging solution is to protect against the spread of Covid-19 while getting people back to work. The benefits of implementing such a system in building employee confidence to return to work or keep working should also not be forgotten. Knowing that such technology is being deployed in a low risk, non-contact way can be a great boost to the confidence of your workforce.
If you are interested in learning more or would like to discuss how a thermal imaging implementation could work for your business, speak to our team for a consultation on thermal imaging solutions. With a range of flexible solutions and finance available, thermal screening solutions can be made available to businesses of all sizes and budgets.
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