The UK Government has said that businesses must update their risk assessments to factor in the dangers associated with coronavirus. This means that, in order to remain compliant and avoid any future liability issues, businesses need to take action to mitigate the impact of the virus on their workforce.
“The government has clearly warned that any food business which fails to complete a risk assessment that takes COVID-19 into account could be in a breach of health and safety law. Employers therefore need to prioritise managing the risks properly. They need to consider the wider context of the workforce to ensure there are no weaknesses in procedures that may put them and their employees at risk,” Will Cooper, CEO and founder at Delfin Health, explained.
Digital health tech companies Delfin Health and DocHQ have created a new tool that leverages artificial intelligence to predict, monitor and test the health and safety of the ‘diverse workforce’ that operates in the food sector.
“The very nature of food production means there are many different functions and roles within food manufacturing,” Cooper observed. “And, because these workers are directly involved in food processing and the handling of food production, employers are required by law to follow specific government guidelines.”
Dubbed Klarity, the AI can give food businesses a real-time clinical understanding of the health of their workers across various job functions, from food inspectors, food handlers, packers, managers and cleaners, to maintenance contractors and delivery workers.
“Tools like Klarity can both mitigate any potential employer liability risks and provide a long-term solution to a health crisis.”
This could become particularly important for essential food businesses if there is a second spike in COVID-19 that results in further lockdowns, either locally or nationally.
“It can help manufacturers stay operational during a potential second lockdown. Due to food being an essential industry, we have already seen them continue to operate during the first wave of COVID-19, albeit in a limited way which is putting their key workers at risk. If these are to remain open, they need to be able to monitor the health and safety of their staff in the most efficient way.”
Reducing the risk of outbreaks in food processing
While food businesses have remained largely operational during the various national lockdowns, certain facilities have had to be shuttered due to localised outbreaks. Cases in the meat sector - from Germany and the US to the UK and the Netherlands - have highlighted issues that Cooper believes everyone operating in the food industry would do well to take heed of.
“It’s not enough for employers to simply rely on people using the test and trace government solution which tests only symptomatic people. There are cases of the virus spreading rapidly throughout food manufacturing units in the US and Germany – and no doubt elsewhere due to the conditions of the facilities which typically involve close contact. It’s also highly likely these units relied on just testing or returning home symptomatic people. It requires a systematic process of regular testing.”
Cooper does not believe it is possible to simply test the entire workforce due to cost and capacity restraints. Digital AI platform Klarity takes a different approach.
“One of the important roles in COVID-19 transmission in this pandemic, especially at this stage, is being played by asymptomatic individuals. Although theoretically speaking the easiest solution might be to apply systematic testing to general population, doing that would become technically unfeasible due to lack of resources and sky rocketing expenditures.
“We have developed a tailored solution that guarantees a consistent testing methodology developed to filter infected asymptomatic employees among large taskforce pools. Thus, our solution can meet the requirements of different sectors, reducing the number of tests, decreasing uncertainty in the workplace and potentially mitigating future outbreaks.”
How does Klarity work?
Cooper elaborated: “The explainable AI that we have developed asks a series of questions about a person’s health history, family health history and current lifestyle. The algorithm within Klarity has been developed using data from one of the largest patient datasets in the world containing over 6.5 million patient years of both medical and lifestyle data.
“We use this information to predict the mortality risk of a patient if they contract COVID-19. Our technology further combines optional daily symptom checking and live virus and antibody testing methodologies to track asymptomatic patients before they transfer this disease to people around them,” he told FoodNavigator.
The various testing methodologies, which include group and randomised testing, allow employers to reduce the amount of testing required and minimise the risk of an outbreak in the currently active workforce, in particular by identifying asymptomatic cases.
The testing process is guided by healthcare professionals who also interpret the results based on World Health Organisation protocols and third-party validation including Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) and, where relevant, rapid antibody tests.
“Our solution allows the reduction of testing yet, through group and randomised testing, identifies the virus quickly.”
Cooper believes that, as well as reducing the risk of outbreaks in a food business, the use of Klarity would also serve to reassure employees that they are safe at work.
Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing details of their medical history and lifestyle choices, particularly with a programme provided through their employer. For this reason, Cooper stressed, data protection is key.
“Data privacy is one of our utmost priorities as we are processing sensitive and private patient information. Patient have complete control of their data, they can share and revoke consent. Moreover, no data ever leaves the platform. We don’t share sensitive personal health data but only aspects necessary to help employers keep employees safe. Our platform keeps up to date with the ever-changing policies and regulations so that the companies don’t have to worry about GDPR rules and employee rights,” he told us.
“In terms of encryption, we use a highly secure (Quantum resistant), distributed and highly configurable storage mechanism; allowing citizens the ability to source, store and share (by record or down to individual fields) their data.”