Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. And in that vein, Ford in the U.S. is developing proximity wristbands that buzz when workers are closer than the CDC recommended 6 feet apart to reduce the chance of contracting coronavirus. Ford is desperate to re-open its factories, but apparently wants to do so in a relatively safe manner.
Having worked in a number of factories in the past, I am sceptical that this is even possible, as bathroom stalls and hallways are rarely built in a way that allows for 6 feet of distance. There are some points of the workday that are simply not possible to pass without getting too close to another worker. How many times in your life have you opened a door at the exact moment another person is reaching for the handle on the other side and walked headlong into their personal space?
Though Ford hasn’t yet set a date for when it will re-open its factories, a group of volunteers at the Plymouth, Michigan plant — where the automaker is now building ventilators to supply hospitals — are testing out the wristbands, according to a report from Bloomberg. This is just one of many safeguard measures Ford is attempting to implement with the United Auto Workers union. Ford will likely continue screening all employees with thermal-imaging scans, as well as provide masks and plastic face shields to keep workers as safe as possible.
Ford is also requiring all workers reporting to the plant to fill out a daily online survey with information on their health, as well as the health of those they are in contact with. It is possible these surveys will roll out to the whole company as it transitions back to work.
Michigan remains a massive breeding ground for the virus, and it is unlikely that anything in the state will go back to “normal” any time soon, if ever. Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order is one of the strictest in the nation, and will remain in place at least through the end of this month. With restrictions on construction and fishing, it doesn’t seem likely the Governor would allow automakers around such a ban. And that’s if it doesn’t get extended.
This idea from Ford isn’t a bad one, and it’s good to see some innovation in the automotive sector despite most things having been shut down weeks ago. I worry that workers will see the wristbands as annoying and simply stop wearing them.