Ottawa construction execs hope contact-tracing tool paves way for safer work sites

Caber Group execs
Caber Group partners Josh Gibson (left) and Rob Hewitt. Photo provided

After seeing a spate of construction projects put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ottawa real estate developer Josh Gibson quickly realized contractors were going to need all the help they could get making up for lost time once they got the all-clear to return to the job site.

Gibson and his colleagues at Ottawa real estate consultancy Caber Group started to look for ways to help make worksites more efficient. After talking with people throughout the industry, they discovered one of the biggest emerging issues was the need for quick contact tracing if a worker tested positive for COVID-19 in an effort to limit the potential spread of the virus. 

“We couldn’t find a real solution out there other than blue-sky things that were mobile-based,” says Gibson, noting most contact-tracing solutions are smartphone apps that are of little use on job sites where workers don’t always carry their devices with them.

They decided to find a better solution, and the result is a new product called Caber Trace. The system includes Bluetooth-connected sensors that send an alert when a worker comes within two metres of a colleague and automatically transmit data on the identities and locations of close contacts to a secure server. 

Developed by local software maker PeopleFlow, the battery-operated devices can be worn on a wristband or lanyard or embedded in a worker’s hardhat. Information collected from the sensors can be viewed at the click of a keyboard, allowing contact tracers to identify all workers at risk of an infection within minutes.

Gibson says the idea for Caber Trace came after the company after a “deep dive” with industry workers and officials worried about how quickly the virus could spread in an industry where it’s often hard to maintain a two-metre buffer between workers and tradespeople move frequently from site to site, making it arduous and time-consuming to manually retrace their movements and record all their contacts. 

“It’s not so much an opportunistic thing,” he says. “It’s really about wanting to make an impact in our industry and bringing comfort to workers and their families.”

Gibson, whose two-decade career includes stints in construction and project management with the Minto Group and M.P. Lundy Construction, says his firm is currently in talks with a major national contractor about employing the product on a monthly subscription basis. 

Caber Trace should be ready for market by the end of the summer, he says, adding he expects to field plenty of calls about the system from construction firms and contractors on both sides of the border.

“This is not going away anytime soon,” he says of the coronavirus issue.