(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc. has started using thermal imaging cameras in its warehouses to speed up the detection of feverish workers who may be infected with the coronavirus, employees told Reuters.
FILE PHOTO: The Amazon logo is visible at the company’s logistics center in Boves, France, on November 5, 2019. REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol / File Photo
Cameras measure the amount of heat people emit in relation to their environment. They require less time and contact than front thermometers, previously adopted by Amazon, workers said.
Viruses have been reported among staff at more than 50 of Amazon’s warehouses in the United States. This has prompted some workers to worry about their safety and to leave work. Unions and elected officials have called on Amazon to close the buildings.
The use of cameras, not previously reported, shows how the second largest corporate employer in the United States is exploring methods to contain the spread of the virus without closing essential warehouses.
US states have given Amazon the green light to deliver goods with almost the entire country under home orders.
In France, Amazon has temporarily closed six of its distribution centers – one of the biggest fallout so far from a labor dispute over the risks of coronavirus contagion.
Tyson Foods Inc and Intel Corp. also explored the use of thermal camera technology. Camera systems, which were widely used at airports in Asia after the SARS epidemic in 2003, can cost between $ 5,000 and $ 20,000.
This past week and the latest, Amazon has installed hardware for thermal imaging cameras in at least six warehouses outside of Los Angeles and Seattle, where the company is based, according to employees and social media posts.
Thermal cameras will also replace thermometers at workers’ entrances at many Amazon Whole Foods stores, according to a recent staff note seen by Reuters and previously reported by Business Insider.
The company carried out a second check of the front thermometer on anyone reported by the cameras to determine the exact temperature, said one of the workers. An international standard requires additional verification, although a manufacturer of camera systems has stated that infrared scanning is more accurate than a thermometer.
The extent of Amazon’s deployment at a time when camera manufacturers are experiencing soaring demand has not been determined. A Whole Foods representative said that cameras ordered weeks ago were starting to arrive for use.
Amazon has confirmed that some warehouses have implemented the systems to streamline controls. The company is taking temperatures “to support the health and safety of our employees, who continue to provide an essential service in our communities,” he said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Amazon announced that it would offer face masks and start checking for fevers daily in hundreds of thousands of people in all of its U.S. and European warehouses. The associates head to a Plexiglas screen and an employee on the other side scans their forehead by pointing a thermometer through a small hole.
This process has not been without challenges. A worker doing temperature checks in Houston said his proximity to associates made him uncomfortable, despite the screen that separated them.
“I did not sign up for this,” he said.
A Los Angeles area employee, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that a line had formed once outside his warehouse and that employees could not receive masks until after entering the building and taking their temperature.
The thermal imaging system is faster, said two other workers, without having to stop in front of a screen. The cameras connect to a computer so that a remote employee can see the results, one said.
Amazon did not reveal the gadgets it was using. One of the employees, in a warehouse outside of Seattle, said the technology came from Infrared Cameras Inc in Texas. Contacted by phone, ICI CEO Gary Strahan said he would neither confirm nor deny his company’s work with Amazon.
Other suppliers include Thermoteknix, based in the United Kingdom, and FLIR Systems Inc., based in the United States.
Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Krystal Hu in New York; Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Leslie Adler