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Proximity warning tech keeps Nightingale workers apart

24 Apr 20 Some of the Interserve workers who are turning the Birmingham NEC into a makeshift field hospital have been kitted out with special backpacks that signal when they get too close to anyone else.

Interserve workers wearing personnel distancing system backpacks
Interserve workers wearing personnel distancing system backpacks

Although the first phase of NHS Nightingale Birmingham opened at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) on 16th April, providing 800 critical care beds to treat Covid-19 patients, work continues there towards an ultimate capacity of 4,000, if required.

Proximity warning specialist SiteZone Safety has supplied six of its personnel distancing systems (PDS) to Interserve Construction to help enforce the so-called ‘two-metre rule’ of social distancing on the site.

The PDS consists of a 2kg pack, and a detection ‘tag’ that can be worn on a hard hat, attached to a belt or strapped to the upper arm. The system has 100 hours of rechargeable battery life.

The exclusion zone can be configured to suit the site’s needs. The proximity alarms are triggered if workers get too within the set boundaries, at which point both their wearable tags will vibrate and the PDS alarms.

At the NEC, two site safety ambassadors wear the PDS units full time and patrol the site to ensure remaining workers are observing the two-metre rule. If not, they are reminded, with accompanying demonstrations using the PDS. The other four units are being rotated between different key tradespeople on site to reinforce social distancing. In this way, it is intended to raise spatial awareness and affect behavioural change on site.

SiteZone Safety was approached by Interserve while the build was getting into full swing in early April. Its proximity warning devices are usually used on construction machinery; as there was nothing off-the-shelf for this particular application, prototypes had to be swiftly made, tested and approved.

Interserve site manager Stuart Palmer said: “We knew about SiteZone Safety’s proximity warning expertise, and they have been able to meet the challenge for us in record time. There was an urgent need to get NHS Nightingale, Birmingham, completed, so high standards of health and safety practice were key drivers to the success of this project. SiteZone Safety’s PDS solution helped us achieve both.”

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The PDS repurposes the original SiteZone proximity warning system, which prevents collisions between personnel and mobile plant and vehicles. Unlike with plant, here it is other people are the threat, and the exclusion zone is rigid.

Gary Escott, co-founder of SiteZone Safety, said: “We had an unusually short period of time to develop and produce a solution that we could deploy quickly. The biggest single advantage we have is that our PDS is built on proven technology, with over 125 million hours in use. The technology has been repurposed for this new application i.e. an invisible virus is now the risk, not a moving vehicle or machine.”

The PDS will be used for the duration of construction at the NEC – approximately four more weeks. NHS Nightingale Birmingham has been provided with these PDS units for free in appreciation of the work that Interserve and the NHS are doing in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

SiteZone Safety’s hire partner ESS-Safeforce is now offering personnel distancing systems for hire to others who feel they can benefit from it. PDS can later be re-purposed for vehicles and machinery after the requirement for social distancing is over, it says.

ESS-Safeforce managing director Mick Jones said: “Social distancing is a priority during the Covid-19 crisis and the hire model increases accessibility of the SiteZone PDS to a wide variety of users, who we are pleased to serve in this time of urgent need.”

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