COVID-19: Quebec company uses thermal cameras to detect employee fevers

With businesses outside of the Montreal area starting to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Quebec companies are trying to find ways to keep their employees safe.

At woodworking company Heritage Architectural in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, this has been a major concern. 

“We thought about having someone at the door holding it, dealing with every employee as they come in,” said Heritage Architectural president Martin Boutet. 

They were searching for an efficient solution to make sure employees heading into work weren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19. Now, in addition to requiring personal protective equipment and physical distancing, the company is trying another measure: each employee who clocks in is scanned by a thermal camera to detect if they’re feverish. 

When employees come into work, the camera takes their temperature and recognizes their faces – in a matter of seconds, they’re on with their day. 

“It’s different, it’s where we have to go now these days to make sure everything will be okay for everyone in the shop,” said Paul Laberge, Heritage Architectural’s logistics manager. 

If an employee has an unusually high body temperature, a note is sent to the supervisor who can follow up with questions. Ten businesses are part of this pilot project, which will determine if thermal cameras can help detect COVID-19. 

But because not every carrier of the virus shows symptoms, the measure isn’t foolproof. 

“At least 40 and in some cases, 50 per cent of people with this infection are either totally asymptomatic and will never show symptoms, or are what we call pre-symptomatic,” said Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, and infectious disease specialist. 

Another limit to the technology is that each reading is linked to a specific employee via facial recognition – it’s not designed to be used for the general public. 

While Heritage Architectural recognizes there’s no guarantee, every precaution helps. 

“Our worry is simply to stay in business,” Boutet said.

That means doing whatever they can to make sure employees stay healthy and on the job. 

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