Organizations across North America are figuring out how they can safely reopen. There is a lot of uncertainty about what the coming months and years will bring, but public health officials are starting to offer concrete guidance on managing the risks of COVID-19.
One practice recommended by the Center for Disease Control is screening staff and sometimes customers for elevated body temperatures at entry points. The CDC has issued best practices for checking temperatures, but only for doing it manually, which pulls staff away from other duties and increases their own infection risk.
A safe alternative is to use an automated, touchless temperature screening solution. These are a kind of thermal imaging device that reads body temperature at a distance. But they are just one of many different kinds of thermal imaging on the market, and not all are designed to measure human body temperature, despite what some vendors may claim.
To help you find the right system for your organization, we’ve pulled together everything you need to know about touchless temperature screening.
What Are Temperature Screening Systems?
Temperature screening use a process called telethermography, or “long distance heat imaging” to measure skin temperature to within a fraction of a degree. Most work reliably at a distance of one to two feet.
Temperature screening tools are available either as Non-contact Infrared Thermometer (NCIT) handhelds or unattended “smart” thermal imaging systems. Handheld NCITs are usually less expensive, but require very specific manual operation to be effective. So you’ll still have to assign and train staff to work in close proximity to the people you wish to scan and ensure they have required personal protection equipment (PPE).
Unattended smart systems can be mounted to walls near entry points or sometimes integrated with access control systems to ensure only healthy individuals can enter the workplace. Instead of detecting temperature at a single point, they check temperature over someone’s entire head and face. Because of this, some systems like the RTNmobile temperature screening solution can perform combined temperature checks and touchless biometric authentication.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the sale and medical uses of temperature screening devices. But after these devices were found to be effective at triaging COVID-19 infections the FDA loosened their restrictions in emergency guidance so temperature screeners could be more widely used in workplaces.
This has led to a glut of different screening systems hitting the market. And not all kinds of thermographic imaging even work for human temperature screening.
Other Types of Thermographic Imaging
Thermographic imaging has many uses beyond reading body temperatures. Devices are sold for specific uses in many other settings. Electric utility workers often use thermal imaging devices to identify overheating parts, a strong indicator that equipment is about to fail. Firefighters use thermal imaging to see through smoke and identify fire hot spots. Construction technicians regularly use thermal imaging to detect gaps in insulation where cold air leaks in.
The cameras designed for these uses may detect heat, but are not designed to quickly verify safe body temperatures or detect fever. Their physical design is often not suited to an indoor work environment. They may not even be able to detect the right temperature range. The software that runs them won’t have “smart” access control capabilities needed in a work environment.
If your organization is trying to quickly source temperature screeners you might also stumble across some related systems. These IR imaging systems are not suitable for conducting human health checks:
IR Film Cameras
Infrared film cameras also image heat, but they only record heat sources from 250 to 500°C (482 to 932°F). Which makes them completely unusable as human temperature diagnostic tools.
If you’re researching thermal scanners you’ll eventually come across Forward-Looking Infrared cameras. These are only useful imaging devices for high-speed vehicles, like aircraft. Forward-looking IR imaging utilizes the forward movement of a vehicle to conduct a special kind of imaging that accurately represents the range of tracked objects. These cameras work at a range of several miles and detect much longer wavelength IR radiation. This makes them an excellent tool for pilots to monitor airspace obstructed by smoke or atmospheric haze. But not appropriate for human temperature scanning.
“Infrared” Night Vision
Despite how they’re sometimes marketed, night vision cameras don’t actually detect heat or body temperature. They image “near infrared” radiation, which is a small band of light invisible to the naked eye. It is not the “true infrared” band that temperature screening solutions read as heat. Night vision cameras magnify near infrared light at a high contrast so viewers to see in total darkness.
What Smart Temperature Screeners Can Do
Real Time Networks’ RTNmobile temperature screening solution functions unattended at a distance of 18” to 22", which helps reduce risk for everyone using and managing the system. Since it functions unattended, it is an effective tool for checking temperatures at unmanned entrances or equipment storage locations where you don’t want to incur extra labor costs to perform temperature checks.
Since these screening solutions use image capture software, they can also verify if a user is wearing a face mask. So depending on your organization’s needs, you could choose to restrict access if staff either are running a high temperature or if they haven’t worn a mask.
Smart temperature screening tools can issue alerts when an elevated body temperature is detected. For example, our RTNmobile temperature screener can send any combination of:
- SMS text alerts
- Email alerts
- Strobe light
- Audible alarm
- Desktop alert on authorized PCs and mobile devices on the same network
In addition, some customers connect the device to a label printer, which prints a label that confirms the individual “Passed” the temperature screening with a date stamp.
Real Time Networks’ screening system can store screening data or be set to explicitly not store it. You might want to keep a record of who showed an elevated body temperature for review and analysis. But because keeping temperature records sometimes is prohibited by local information privacy laws or simply against corporate policy you may want to prevent the system from creating an unnecessary regulatory burden. If such records or email alerts are not necessary the system can simply operate in standalone mode, without network access or data storage.
Temperature Screening Devices After the COVID-19 Crisis Ends
At some point the COVID-19 public health crisis will end. Since temperature screening and biometric authentication are completely separate modes in our RTNmobile system, you can simply disable the temperature screening feature if you decide your organization no longer needs it. You can still perform touchless biometric authentication and mask checks where needed.
If you work in an ISO-compliant business, you know that the COVID-19 public health crisis has quite suddenly altered the risks many businesses need to prepare for long term. Organizations the whole world over now need to factor pandemics into their risk management programs. Those businesses may want to deploy temperature screening in certain facilities long term. Temperature screening is particularly useful as part of ISO 14001 emergency preparedness planning, as well as ISO 45001 sickness hazard management.
Return to Work Safely with RTNmobile Temperature Screening Solution
There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what the world after COVID-19 will look like. But smart temperature screening is certainly one reliable method your business can deploy to help it safely reopen. Use temperature screening to monitor your own staff or offer it as a service to your customers.
About the Author
Jay Palter, VP of Marketing