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Wearable technology will track social distancing among employees returning to work in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside the workplace. According to a recent PwC online survey of 871 finance executives at companies in 24 countries, 21 percent said they were eyeing location tracking and contact tracing for their workforces. 

Ford employees are experimenting with smartwatches that vibrate when workers come within six feet of each other. PwC has developed an app that turns employees’ phones into contact tracing devices, notifying them when they’ve been exposed to a coworker with the coronavirus. 

In other workplaces, employers are considering equipping their workforces with wearables — separate from their phones — that are capable of granular on-site and indoor location tracking and contact tracing. CarePredict recently rolled out such devices for senior living facilities. 

Workplace contact tracing devices would enable companies to selectively isolate any employees with exposure to COVID-19, allowing the rest of the company to keep working. 

Blackline Safety announced that its systems, which monitor industrial worker safety through connected, wearable devices, can now also perform contact tracing and social distance monitoring. Their rugged, walkie talkie-sized device, called G7, tracks workers’ movements with GPS and by pinging indoor beacons placed around a workplace, and send the data to Blackline’s cloud. The on-body devices use accelerometers to detect an accident, such as a fall, or potentially dangerous situation, like a gas leak, and call for help. Oil and gas refineries, water treatment plants, road maintenance companies, and other tough-job employers use these systems.

Estimote, a location and proximity services provider, also quickly pivoted for the pandemic. The company that makes programmable Bluetooth-based beacons for item tracking had also recently begun making wearable panic buttons for the hotel industry. When the pandemic hit, Estimote adapted its panic button systems to proximity and contact tracing. The device comes in three forms: a wristwatch, a pendant or lanyard, and a card shape. When the distance between two employees is too close, or when an employee enters an area that has been deemed off-limits due to COVID-19, the device beeps.

Such tools could give employees more confidence about going back to work, yet the devices raise privacy concerns.