Construction Companies Face Risks if Relying on Thermal Cameras for Covid-19 Protection

As construction sites continue to cope with the third UK lockdown, construction-sector employers and contractors should focus on their Covid-19 employee safety protocols and not be reliant on thermal imaging systems.

Some companies in the construction sector are continuing to point to the use of temperature screening products as being a means in which to control the virus’s spread and are suggesting that thermal cameras, used as site access control measures, can assist.

As a press release issued by the Government in July 2020[1] said, quoting Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Director of Devices, Graeme Tunbridge, “Many thermal cameras and temperature screening products were originally designed for non-medical purposes, such as for building or site security. Businesses and organisations need to know that using these products for temperature screening could put people’s health at risk.”

At that point, the Government said it would take action against companies making false claims about this sort of equipment and its use in the fight against Covid-19.  It pointed to there being little scientific evidence to support the use of thermal cameras in effective Covid-19 detection and said such cameras monitor skin temperature and not body temperature.

These readings are therefore an unreliable measure for detection of COVID-19 or other diseases which may cause fever.  In this way, the use of these cameras could be dangerous.  The key measures of mask-wearing, safe distancing and frequent washing of the hands are the recommended control measures. As Government advice has stated, only MHRA-approved devices have any medical validity and cameras should not be used for purposes other than those intended by the manufacturer.

This opens up any construction company using such cameras to risk – that of future employee litigation, should employees have been encouraged to work, on the basis of having such systems in place, and then fall ill. 

Although knowing where Covid-19 is contracted is difficult, any outbreak around a site would be a good pointer to the source.  With the Government having specifically warned against the use of thermal cameras, liability risks are very real.

Construction companies should review risk assessments and make sure other measures, such as face mask-wearing, are enforced.  Hand-washing facilities need to be adequate and supplies of soap and antibacterial gels always available.  Toilet facilities should be kept clean and workers firmly advised not to attend the site if they have any symptoms, have had a Covid-19 diagnosis, or need to isolate because a family member has symptoms or because they have travelled abroad.

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