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In EAIGLE’s webinar, Future of Operations: Preparing the Workplace in a Post-Pandemic Future, epidemiologist Tim Sly and policy analyst Alessandro Kandiah discussed the importance of technology in minimizing the risks of future outbreaks within the workplace.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the operations of facilities and offices on an international scale, it was not the world’s first experience of a coronavirus. According to Tim Sly, this is the third one in 20 years but the first two only escalated at a small scale.
“We had local outbreaks, but neither of them approached anything like a pandemic,” he said. “All of the textbook approaches to what we do with pandemics [weren’t] followed. This virus hadn’t read that same text.”

There will be more pandemics, there's no question about that.

Tim SlyEpidemiologist
According to EcoHealth Alliance in a report by The Wall Street Journal, infectious disease events have more than doubled from the 1940s to 1960s. Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance’s president, estimates pandemics could cost as much as $23.5 trillion over the next 30 years.

A defining trait for the COVID-19 pandemic is that it infected communities from sector to sector, workplace to workplace.

Tim Sly explained that long-term care homes in Seattle, Washington were one of the first affected by the outbreak in North America, even before long-term care homes in Vancouver, B.C.
“That was the sector which was mainly affected. We saw the huge incidents; we saw the very large death rates because the infection fatality rate is enormous among older people,” he said.
As long-term care home residents become vulnerable, so do their caretakers. “We also saw many workers involved in that area being affected by this disease, it became an occupational health and safety illness.”
The circumstances present in food manufacturing plants also make them prone to outbreaks, according to Tim Sly. He cites the seven C’s of COVID-19, a list of elements in a common facility that contribute to higher risks of viral infections such as the coronavirus.
“As the pandemic moved through, we began to realize that this was going through industrial or commercial sectors,” Tim Sly said
“We must learn from these lessons and be prepared for the next one.”

Innovation in a year marked by loss

In Alessandro Kandiah’s report for the OECD, Preparing for the Future of Work in Canada, he explained that innovation among automation technologies accelerate during economic turmoil, such as the large-scale unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With health experts warning that social distancing measures may need to remain in place through 2021, firms may seek to expand their use of technology to reduce the number of staff that have to be physically at work,” he wrote.

“In other words, [workplaces] might want to pandemic-proof their operations.”

Alessandro KandiahPolicy Analyst, OECD
Automation technologies allow workplaces to maintain productivity and foster innovation during a pandemic. However, workers must be equipped with the necessary education to be able to utilize future infrastructures as a skill development tool.
“Automation is more likely to change tasks within jobs rather than replace entire jobs, requiring workers to develop new skills,” said Kandiah.
“To ensure that the workers are actually ready for these changes to happen in the future, I think it will be really important to take action both on the skills supply side and the skills demand side.”

Investing in innovative technologies is important to address pandemic needs.

Among the technologies that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic were the automated wellness screening solutions that screen site visitors for elevated skin temperature, one of the more common COVID-19 symptoms.
“I think that as [new screening techniques] become more developed, I can see that being decentralized to companies and firms,” said Sly.
Automated Screening solutions streamline the wellness screening process that employees and visitors are required to complete before entering the facility. This eliminates the need for manual temperature screening; not only is it laborious, it also puts the employee at risk of exposure to a viral infection.
“This is a normal way of doing things, not to wait for the government to do something. Companies can do this as a protection, a precaution.”