Amazon has started to use thermal cameras at its warehouses to speed up screening for feverish workers who could be infected with the coronavirus, employees told Reuters news agency.
The cameras in effect measure how much heat people emit relative to their surroundings. They require less time and contact than forehead thermometres, earlier adopted by Amazon, the workers said.
Cases of the virus have been reported among staff at more than 50 of Amazon’s US warehouses. That has prompted some workers to worry for their safety and walk off the job. Unions and elected officials have called on Amazon to close buildings down.
The use of cameras, previously unreported, shows how America’s second-biggest corporate employer is exploring methods to contain the virus’ spread without shuttering warehouses essential to its operation.
US states have given Amazon the green light to deliver goods with nearly all the country under stay-at-home orders.
In France, Amazon has closed six of its fulfillment centres temporarily - one of the biggest fallouts yet from a dispute with workers over the risks of coronavirus contagion.
Other companies that have explored using the thermal camera technology include Tyson Foods and Intel Corp. The camera systems, which garnered widespread use at airports in Asia after the SARS epidemic in 2003, can cost between $5,000 and $20,000.
This week and last, Amazon set up the hardware for the thermal cameras in at least six warehouses outside Los Angeles and Seattle, where the company is based, according to employees and posts on social media.
Thermal cameras will also replace thermometres at worker entrances to many of Amazon’s Whole Foods stores, according to a recent staff note seen by the Reuters and previously reported by Business Insider.
The company performs a second, forehead thermometre check on anyone flagged by the cameras to determine an exact temperature, one of the workers said. An international standard requires the extra check, though one camera system maker said the infrared scan is more accurate than a thermometre.
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