Device helps trace close contacts at construction sites

A worker with a TraceSafe contact tracing device on his safety helmet, at Boustead Singapore's construction site in Kranji in January. The Canadian firm is testing a smaller version of the device (above, right).
A worker with a TraceSafe contact tracing device on his safety helmet, at Boustead Singapore's construction site in Kranji in January. The Canadian firm is testing a smaller version of the device).PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN, TRACESAFE
A worker with a TraceSafe contact tracing device on his safety helmet, at Boustead Singapore's construction site in Kranji in January. The Canadian firm is testing a smaller version of the device (above, right).
A worker with a TraceSafe contact tracing device on his safety helmet, at Boustead Singapore's construction site in Kranji in January. The Canadian firm is testing a smaller version of the device (above).

If a worker is found to be infected with the coronavirus at a construction site, the entire worksite may have to be shut to contain the spread of the virus.

But with a contact tracing device for workers, it might not be necessary to close the entire site because people who had close contact with the infected worker can quickly be identified and separated from other healthy workers.

Canadian contact tracing technology company TraceSafe was selected through a government crowdsourcing initiative called the Open Innovation Platform to develop this system.

TraceSafe Asia-Pacific managing director Jasling Ong said: "Without such a system, companies may have to wait for quarantine orders and the like from the authorities to be issued, and firms may be in limbo for about a week."

But with this system, if a Covid-19 case is found, companies can decide in a day on what immediate steps to take, she added.

The Building and Construction Authority had in July last year put out a challenge for a tech solution that can manage Covid-19 contact tracing at construction sites, among other things.

Construction firm Boustead Singapore awarded TraceSafe $50,000 to develop the contact tracing solution, which was then tested in January at a company construction site in Kranji, with about 50 devices deployed.

A prototype of the device initially tested was slightly smaller than a feature phone and could be attached to a safety helmet.

TraceSafe is now testing a smaller version of the device, following feedback calling for a reduced size. Its new device is smaller than a can of tuna that fits in the palm of the hand.

It works by exchanging Bluetooth signals between devices to figure out who a worker has been in close contact with, similar to how the Government's TraceTogether app and token work.

But with this device the employers will themselves be able to quickly access the data.

And the TraceSafe device can also warn workers if they are too close to other workers - less than 1m - by vibrating and emitting an alarm, so that even if the worksite is noisy, the workers are alerted.

The new device has an additional feature - an LED light that will flash to alert workers if they are too close to other workers.

This can be useful if workers have to work at night.

Ms Ong said the device had to be rugged as well as resistant to dust and water, so that it would not break or malfunction easily in a construction environment.

To protect workers' privacy, the device does not track their location and does not store personal details such as their names or photos.

TraceSafe charges less than $5 per device per month.

Further tests for the devices are in the works, and there are plans beyond contact tracing to use them to alert workers if they approach restricted equipment or dangerous zones.

TraceSafe has received interest from other construction companies in Singapore, as well as from Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines.

A major semiconductor manufacturer has already signed a global deal with the company.

TraceSafe is also testing a similar contact tracing concept for the healthcare sector, with a wrist-worn device. It plans to expand into the event space next in Singapore.

Kenny Chee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2021, with the headline 'Device helps trace close contacts at construction sites'. Subscribe