LiUNA to pilot test digital contact-trace technology

The Labourers International Union of North America (LiUNA) has partnered with a developer in Waterloo to deploy technology that will help to track COVID-19 contacts among site workers.

Created by Facedrive Health and the University of Waterloo, TraceSCAN is a contact-tracing app that communicates with wearers through devices such as their phones to notify workers when they have come into proximity with someone carrying the novel coronavirus. The technology keeps a secure and encrypted record of contact frequency and duration among workers for a period of 14 days.

If a worker who uses the technology tests positive for, or begins showing symptoms of, COVID-19, he or she will notify a site supervisor or other authorized user who can then de-encrypt the worker’s contact history data, and notify other workers with whom the he or she was in contact over the past two weeks.

Because TraceSCAN operates over Bluetooth technology, devices can communicate with one another within a range of 10 metres. Based on the strength of the signal it records, the app can give a sense of the distance between a COVID-positive worker and other workers. The site supervisor or authorized TraceSCAN user can use that strength-of-signal data to send out different types of notifications to contacted workers.

For example, a contact showing a low signal strength may only require a notice to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and self-assess. A contact showing a high signal strength may require a notice to workers to self-quarantine and get tested by public health officials.

The result, says Joseph Mancinelli, LiUNA International vice president and regional manager of central and eastern Canada, is a solution that offers peace of mind for the union’s many workers.

“The safety and well-being of LiUNA members remains our highest priority. Beginning with this important pilot project, we are pleased to have TraceSCAN available to the membership of LiUNA and their families, working together to ensure heightened protection amid the progression of COVID-19,” he said. “Our members are one of the foundational pillars of the Canadian economy and we are diligent in all efforts to continue to ensure they are protected. In partnership with TraceSCAN, we will continue to ensure that the health and safety of all members remains at the centre of all decision making, introducing this innovative safety measure as we continue building stronger communities across Canada.”

LiUNA will pilot-test the technology on a site in Ottawa, the details of which are not yet available.

Privacy, says Facedrive COO Suman Pushparajah, has been paramount in the development and testing of the app. Participation in the program is entirely voluntary, and TraceSCAN will collect minimal personal information—such as phone numbers—so participants can be notified of any potential contacts. Additionally, if a site worker tests positive for COVID-19, he or she must provide consent to access his or her encounter logs.

“Privacy concerns are critical,” he said. “The Facedrive team in partnership with researchers at the University of Waterloo have retained the legal services of McCarthy Tetrault to ensure that all data security and private information remain protected.”

With construction in Ontario back at full capacity as of May 19, contractors and workers are on high alert to control the spread of the novel coronavirus on work sites. Under guidance from public health officials, the industry has embraced best practices such as pre-site access screening, physical distancing measures, increased site hygiene and personal protective equipment to not only comply with the law, but also ensure worker safety.

“Amid the rapid progression of COVID-19, we heard concerns from our members and their families about high-levels of anxiety about exposure to the virus on job sites and fear of contamination from the job-site to the home,” says Mancinelli. “Although we continue to work with industry and government to enforce the highest level of safety protocols on-site, there remains a possibility of a second surge in infections. The TraceSCAN app is a preventative tool to mitigate this risk and assist in ensuring the safety of our members.”

Contact tracing, which is the practice of logging contacts among workers, is emerging as a new strategy to document the potential spread of the novel coronavirus on worksites. It is not without gaps, however. In most cases, it depends on a worker’s ability to recall his or her encounters and actions on jobsites in the past 14 days. That’s not ideal, says Pushparajah.

“TraceSCAN supplements manual contact tracing and current screening measures by addressing its key limitation: an infected person can only report contacts they are acquainted with and remember having met. It can also enable more scalable and less resource-intensive contact tracing.”

LiUNA hopes the Ottawa pilot project will reveal important findings about the practical use—and further adoption—of TraceSCAN on construction sites.

“The pilot project will open up discussion on how we can approve upon as the app as it progresses,” says Mancinelli. “Additional signatory employer partners outside those participating in the pilot project have expressed an interest in adapting this technology and we will continue to work together to ensure that all safety measures remain in place to keep the men and women who build our country and their families safe.”

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