Ensuring proper social distancing
To help ensure employee safety and stop the spread of Covid-19, Nutrien Ltd. early in 2021 expanded its use of proximity-monitoring and contact-tracing technology from Triax Technologies.
A provider of farming products and services that help growers sustainably increase food production, the company was deemed an essential service in its core markets at the start of the pandemic.
To help mitigate the spread of the virus, Nutrien partnered with Triax to help its workers maintain a minimum of distance of six feet from each other and automatically capture data about their interactions with coworkers.
More than 8,000 Nutrien employees worldwide are using the technology, called Proximity Trace, and an additional 6,500 were scheduled to be part of the expansion this year. Originally deployed in July 2020 at Nutrien’s nitrogen and phosphate sites in the US, the company is rolling out the technology at its potash mines in Canada, at corporate offices in Illinois, and at two additional sites in Canada.
Light-weight Proximity Trace tags are attached to workers’ clothing or hard hats and produce a real-time, audible and visual (flashing red light) alert to anyone who comes within six feet, to support proximity monitoring. The tags also automatically log data, so the company can quickly perform contact tracing if a positive case arises. Data is captured by gateways that are strategically placed around the site.
The tags have a rechargeable battery with multiple months of battery life between charges. They communicate with other tags and a gateway using 900 MHz wireless, and the gateways push the captured data to a Triax cloud portal hosted via LTE.
“Access to the portal is integrated into our Microsoft Active Directory environment, and there is no connectivity to our network during the process,” says Gary Peterson, director of IT for Nitrogen & Phosphate.
“The information is used for reporting purposes, in the event of necessary contact tracing. The tags are not used for location tracking. If there is a contact-tracing requirement, site leaders can quickly run a report that tells them who qualifies as a close contact.”
Because the technology doesn’t use GPS or Bluetooth, doesn't rely on a customer’s Wi-Fi network or the Internet, or track employee location, it avoids privacy concerns. And since it pinpoints individuals who might have been exposed to the virus, the system also helps Nutrien minimise the risk of operational shutdowns and the associated costs.
Since the implementation of the Triax technology, physical distancing alerts have reduced the number of close contacts, positive cases, and quarantines. In addition, the automated data system has improved the efficiency and accuracy of contact tracing.
The technology, “has been successful in eliminating the inefficiencies of a manual contact-tracing process and providing a safe and healthy work environment for employees and contractors,” Peterson says.
Nutrien selected the Proximity Trace technology for several reasons, Peterson says. One is that the proximity monitoring and contact tracing capabilities support Nutrien’s safety-first culture by helping to maintain physical distancing and provide contact-tracing reporting if necessary.
The system also met Nutrien’s technology, cyber security, and safety requirements for deployment. Implementing the technology was efficient, with easy set-up and configuration, Peterson says. In addition, the system is scalable, which supports the company’s plans to expand its use across more sites where Nutrien hopes to safely return more employees who have been working remotely.