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When Does Tracking Workers Make Sense?

The right system can provide safety, privacy and security, and serve the interests of both a company and its employees.
By John Shoemaker

What works? The case for active UHF RFID
Active UHF RFID tags have proven to be not only effective under harsh conditions and extreme weather, but also versatile enough in situations involving large, noisy metal structures with machinery, or in environments that may contain gases and vapors, high voltages and thick airborne dust.

Two versions can be supplied—one for routine operations in nonharzardous environments, and one that has earned "Intrinsically Safe" or ATEX certifications for continuous operation in the presence of flammable gas or explosive airborne particles. My company, Identec Solutions Inc., provides both types of tags in a product line optimized to track thousands of workers in many industries worldwide, in office-like conditions or outside in extreme temperatures ranging from -40 degrees to +85 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees to +185 degrees Fahrenheit).

While the tag's physical characteristics are one consideration (form factor, ruggedness, shape and size), most important is that the tags can be detected at a long range—up to 1,500 feet (500 meters) away—while being carried by hundreds of workers, even those who are packed tightly together, running or carrying equipment. Employees carry their ID tags in many different positions: hanging or clipped outside on their clothing, stored in their purses or briefcases, cupped in their hand, tucked inside coat pockets and so on. Any system used for monitoring personnel safety must thus accommodate all of this uncertainty without interfering with the ability to read every tag, especially at times when people's lives are at risk. This is a technical challenge that active ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags have proven capable of meeting.

What is gained by tracking workers?
When employees wear active UHF RFID tags, their locations and identification can be monitored during emergencies or drills, in order to ensure that proper directions and guidance are given to safety officers, first-responders and management. Such visibility is immediate and automated, enabling a company to efficiently gain a handle on the situation and thus make intelligent decisions with urgency.

Even routine drills can be expensive, considering the downtime during the drill itself. It has been shown that automating the process for accountability can cut the amount of time required to conduct and report on drills by two thirds or more. This affects overall facility productivity. Reports on drills or events can be automatically generated to comply with regulations or other policies, and the system can automatically create a traceable record.

What's more, if the active tags are part of an overall solution, such as Identec's Watcher Suite, other actions can immediately be taken to address the nature of the emergency. This solution can be designed to automatically trigger the opening and closing of doors, turn on signage to offer directions to safe areas, and transmit alerts and alarms. In addition, it can incorporate the use of video to observe the affected areas, and present all the information on a map of the facility, thereby enabling quick, effective decision-making and guidance for first-responders and other personnel.

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