Temperature Screening in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers
July 21, 2020
As the COVID-19 case count continues to grow across the world, more businesses are considering implementing temperature screening protocols for employees. Temperature screenings can help identify potential cases, thereby avoiding a possible outbreak in the workplace. They can also provide reassurance to employees with safety concerns. Moreover, they are recommended by the CDC as a key part of an overall strategy for reducing the spread and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this guide for employers, we cover briefly the key aspects of understanding needed for any workplace implementing temperature screening, including accuracy & limitations, screening process best practices, choosing a device, and data privacy considerations.
Accuracy & Limitations
To be sure, temperature screening has its limitations. A person can shed the virus without having a fever, or any change in body temperature. Conversely, those with a fever or heightened temperature may not actually have COVID-19. In addition, temperature scanners can be vulnerable to environmental factors such as ambient temperature, humidity, airflow and screening background.
Regarding accuracy, it is important to understand the various factors that can have an impact. While most manufacturers only report the accuracy of the sensor, it is important for employers to understand the accuracy of the full installation. The key factors that can impact accuracy are:
- Sensor Accuracy. First and foremost, sensor accuracy is critical. Medical grade products can get to a sensor accuracy of ~0.2°C, and most temperature screening products range between 0.3°C (very good) — 1.0°C. When purchasing a system, employers should ask whether the reported accuracy is that of the sensor only, or of the whole system, as most manufacturers only report the sensor accuracy.
- System Accuracy. The way the sensor is designed into the overall device is critical and can drastically reduce accuracy, especially due to the quality and consistency of the manufacturer.
- Environment Accuracy. As infrared sensors take readings by sending IR through the air, accuracy can be heavily impacted by anything the sensor can pick up, including ambient temperature and the overall environment. This is especially true for wide thermal imagers that process multiple people at once in a large area.
- Machine Learning Software. Smart software algorithms can use data from additional device sensors and continuous training to improve device accuracy over time.
- Time and Usage. All thermal sensor solutions require regular replacement or calibration (this has to be done in a lab due to expensive black body equipment), as time and usage can reduce sensor accuracy.
Screening Process Best Practices
The CDC has advised conducting daily temperature screenings before employees enter the facility. According to the Equal Opportunity Opportunity Commission, an ADA-covered employer may take the body temperature of employees during a pandemic. However, neither body has issued guidance as to how to do so. Christine Berger, a New Orleans-based attorney, recommends businesses consider the following questions before implementing screening protocols:
- How will I select an employee to administer the scan, if needed?
- How will that employee be protected while doing so?
- How will the privacy of employees subjected to the scan be protected?
- How will this affect employee morale?
If the device requires an employee to operate it, employers should identify several employees that would be a good fit, and assess which of them is most comfortable performing the scans. They should be supplied with protective clothing, including gloves, masks, eyewear and a gown, and be given very clear instructions as to how to operate the device.
If possible, Christine Berger recommends taking temperatures in as private a setting as possible, and avoiding lineups for screenings. (If lineups are unavoidable, they should be distanced.) Jeff Nowak, an attorney with Littler Chicago, recommends minimizing legal exposure by continuing to pay employees who are sent home with high temperatures. When asked about the potential for a related lawsuit, he’s skeptical: “If it saves one life, it’s worth it,” he says.
Overall, employee buy-in is key to using any sort of app-based or temperature screening tool, notes PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). “Employers may not need to take a mandatory approach… if they can win over their employees with clear and frequent communications about how it all works, appealing to the worker’s interest in helping to make the workplace safe and productive for everyone.”
Choosing a Device
With all of that in mind, it’s important to select the right screening method. Below, we’ve identified the pros and cons of each of the three main types of screening devices: the temperature gun, wide thermal camera, and thermal screen kiosk.
For any type of screening device, manufacturer quality and reputation is critical, especially with respect to sensor accuracy. It’s important to understand who manufactures the device, and whether it adheres to data protection and security regulations. Finally, it’s important to consider the duration and scope of the warranty, and ensure that it covers both hardware and software malfunctions.
Data Privacy Considerations
The use of temperature screening protocols may trigger legal obligations in certain jurisdictions. Some states, such as California, require notice to be given to employees. Health data, including temperature check records, should be kept only as long as it is needed and stored separately from employee records. It should also be kept highly confidential, and shared only on a need-to-know basis. If using a screening app, PWC recommends keeping geolocation data anonymous and encrypted, making everything temporary, and refraining from feeding data to government bodies in order to maintain employee trust.
As more and more temperature screening devices hit the market, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the one you’ve selected is right for your workplace, meets the relevant quality and security standards and is implemented correctly. If you have questions about this process, or about our device specifically, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com.