Personalized beepers warn Nutrien mine workers when they get too close for COVID

·2 min read
Devices that beep when a person gets within two metres of a coworker are being tried out at Nutrien's Vanscoy potash mine near Saskatoon.
Devices that beep when a person gets within two metres of a coworker are being tried out at Nutrien's Vanscoy potash mine near Saskatoon.

(Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

It looks like a slimmed-down beeper and sounds like a bedside alarm, but a device being tried out at Nutrien's Saskatoon-area Vanscoy potash mine is helping keep workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company says.

The TraceTag, developed by a company named Triax Technologies, emits a beep and a flashing red dot when a person gets within two metres of a co-worker.

If they remain too close, the beeping intensifies, not unlike a hospital heart monitor.

"In a sort of non-threatening way, [it] does provide an extra layer of certainty, security and information," said Ken Seitz, Nutrien's external vice president and CEO of potash.

More than 8,000 Nutrien workers are using the technology worldwide, mostly in the United States. Vanscoy is the first of the company's Saskatchewan mines to tag along. As the company extends the device to other sites, it hopes to have nearly two-thirds of its total workforce tagged and ready.

Help with contact tracing

The TraceTag doesn't track a worker GPS-style, but it does keep a log of when they get too close, which comes in handy when COVID-19 contract tracing is necessary, Seitz said. If an employee tests positive, the company can go back and see who they were within two metres of.

Chanss/Lagaden
Chanss/Lagaden

"Certainly we want everyone wearing masks all the time," Seitz said. "But it's a reminder that should you find yourself within that two meters and perhaps not wearing a mask, with the beep you're very quickly reminded to don some PPE and protective equipment like a mask or continue to social distance."

The alerts have reduced the number of close contacts, positive cases and quarantines at Nutrien sites, according to the company.