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Testing at agricultural facility shows differences in temperature screening accuracy


September 1, 2020
By Greta Chiu


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Photo credit: Category 5

In light of COVID, many agricultural and agri-food producers have turned to thermal scanners and cameras as a way to screen their staff’s body temperatures. However, live testing at NutriGroupe’s facility has shown that not all scanning technology provides the same level of accuracy.

Partnering with Category 5, a manufacturer and installer of COVID-19 testing solutions, Nutrigroupe tested the performance of a manual handheld temperature screening device against Category 5’s automated, free-standing thermographic camera supported by AI technology. The handheld device was found to vary in accuracy – between 0.6 to 1.4 degrees Celsius – compared to the free-standing camera.

It’s a significant difference, says Mary Barroll, senior vice-president of communications at Ciel Capital, a private equity firm managing Category 5. According to Barroll, handheld devices rely on a human operator, which could lead to inconsistencies in their use and subsequent readings. The point of the scan may not always be accurately aimed at the forehead. Meanwhile, the AI technology incorporated into the free-standing cameras was able to help focus the scan on the forehead and, at the same time, reduce false positives from nearby heat sources, such as a cup of hot coffee.

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Use of the automated cameras at Nutrigroupe also eliminated the need for a dedicated employee to actively conduct two screenings each day. The cameras were operated 24/7, with real-time readings available within one to two seconds. This improvement in efficiency was estimated to save a minimum of 70 hours per month, based on an average time of 1 minute per reading for 100 employees.

According to Barroll, the AI-supported cameras can also be installed in more crowded areas, such as a packing line, testing up to 30 people at once. Employers can calibrate them to detect whether an employee is wearing a mask, as well as collect thermal data overlaid over actual video footage for their records, matching the information collected with the subject. To support physical distancing policies, Category 5 also distributes “people counting” cameras to help employers track compliance.

With many different options available on the market, potential purchasers are advised to look for screening devices that have been certified by an accredited body, such as Health Canada.

“A high quality thermal camera temperature accuracy range is considered good between 0.3 to 0.5 of a degree Celsius,” says Barroll. “We recommend that any purchasers actually ensure that they verify the device’s advertised accuracy when choosing temperature screening technology.”

If employers detect a higher than normal body temperature, they are encouraged to test the employee again after a few minutes. Overall, an accurate device not only helps improve safety in the workplace, but allows employees to feel safe knowing that their colleagues have been screened as well.

“It’s important to view cameras as part of an overall safety strategy,” says Barroll. She adds that other preventative measures, such as Plexi-glass barriers, masks and face shields, may be needed where employees are working in close proximity.

“If we can build better safety protocols and still maintain business, that is the goal,” says Barroll.