Your Guide to Using Non-Contact Infrared Thermometers at Work

By Skye Schooley,
business.com writer
|
Aug 27, 2020
Image Credit: vichie81 / Getty Images

Learn how to use non-contact infrared thermometers to check for fevers from a safe distance, keeping your employees and business safe from the coronavirus.

As small businesses reopen their doors to employees and customers, these companies are reevaluating their health-and-safety measures. One strategy many employers are using to ensure a safe and healthy workspace is measuring temperatures with non-contact infrared thermometers. Learn what to look for in an infrared thermometer to find the best one for your business.

How to choose an infrared thermometer

The best infrared thermometer for your small business will depend on several factors, like the temperature of your establishment and the features you are looking for. It is important to choose one that is reliable and accurate. Employers should review the FDA's guidance when selecting a thermometer, advised Vanessa Matsis-McCready, associate general counsel and director of human resources for Engage PEO.

When choosing an infrared thermometer, consider these factors:

  • Accuracy and reliability. How accurate do you need the device to be? Some devices are more sensitive, causing inaccuracy if they are used improperly. Consider how your staff will use the device.
  • Ease of use. Will your staff be trained on the device? Do you need a digital display for easy viewing? Maybe you need a backlit device to use in the dark or a device with silent mode, so it doesn't irritate customers.
  • Location. Will you be conducting temperature checks in an air-controlled environment or outside in the sun? Some devices are more sensitive to weather, causing inaccurate results.
  • Speed. Do you need instant results, or do you have a little leeway? Some devices may need a longer rest period between temperature checks.
  • Temperature. What temperature range will you be testing? Does it need to be displayed in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius?

Best non-contact infrared thermometers

We scoured the internet to find some of the most popular and reliable non-contact infrared thermometers used to check human body temperature. Based on our research, here are a few options to choose from (listed in alphabetical order). These prices and customer ratings were taken at the time this article was written and may change over time.

  • iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer. An Amazon bestseller, the iHealth No-Touch thermometer has three ultrasensitive sensors to deliver reliable results. It collects more than 100 data points per second from the forehead, and its additional distance and environmental sensors make necessary adjustments to give you accurate readings. It costs $49.99, and its customer rating is currently 4.3 out of 5 stars. Discounts may be available. 
  • Olangda Forehead Thermometer. Another top-rated non-contact thermometer is the Olangda infrared forehead thermometer. It costs $59.99 on Amazon, and customers rate it 4.4 out of 5 stars. Some standout features are its light weight and ease of use. This thermometer can switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius. Discounts may be available.
  • ThermoDetect Pro. This non-contact thermometer is medical grade and FDA approved. The ThermoDetect Pro is easy to use and has a long battery life. It can measure a temperature in less than one second, and it is accurate to within 0.01 degree Fahrenheit when used properly. It currently costs $49 and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • Vibeey digital non-contact forehead thermometer. Another highly rated contactless thermometer is the Vibeey digital thermometer. Customers rate it 4.4 out of 5 stars, and it costs $45.99 on Amazon. Temperature readings are available within one second of testing, and the device automatically shuts down after roughly 20 seconds of no operation, to save battery life. It has a backlit screen, and users can toggle among modes to test human foreheads or other objects (e.g., room temperature, liquid). Discounts may be available.

How businesses are using non-contact infrared thermometers against COVID-19

Though not a foolproof way to identify people who are infected with the coronavirus, fevers are a common symptom, so many businesses are turning to infrared thermometers to quickly and safely screen employees and customers. Be aware that consistency and a legitimate business need are key to conducting medical tests such as temperature checks, to stay in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Doing temperature checks on employees

One way to use infrared thermometers in the workplace to protect against the spread of COVID-19 is to conduct temperature checks on your employees daily as they come to work and then send home employees who have fevers. Small business owners should be aware that they may be required to provide paid time off for employees who are sent home due to fever, depending on federal, state and local regulations, as well as on employment contracts and company policies.

According to Matsis-McCready, conducting temperature checks on employees before they enter the workplace as a way to identify some cases of COVID-19 is currently deemed appropriate under the current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's COVID-19 pandemic guidance. However, these checks are still considered medical tests, so discretion should be used when sharing the results. Temperature checks may be one way to slow the spread of coronavirus in your establishment, but small business owners should be aware of the potential legal implications of misuse.

"It is of the utmost importance that the information is treated privately and [that] only limited, need-to-know access is given to management, preferably only the HR manager or other manager leading the response," said Matsis-McCready. "The information should be treated like all other medical information, as confidential and with HIPAA considerations."

Doing temperature checks on customers

If you operate a customer-facing business, like a restaurant or a retail store, you can use infrared thermometers to check customers' temperatures before they enter your establishment. If they have a fever, you can kindly inform them of your new health-and-safety policies and turn them away. Be sure your new guidelines and procedures are transparent and applied fairly to all customers. Businesses using infrared thermometers to perform temperature checks should use them consistently on all customers, to avoid unfairly singling out any individuals or groups. [Read related article: Conflict Resolution Tips for Handling Difficult Customers During COVID-19]

Pros and cons of non-contact infrared thermometers

When screening multiple employees or customers for coronavirus symptoms such as fever, non-contact infrared thermometers are often the best choice. There are several advantages of using a non-contact thermometer, including quick-and-easy implementation, rapid response and reduced virus transmission. Non-contact thermometers are also easy to clean and disinfect, which adds an extra level of safety to the procedure. 

"Non-contact infrared thermometers offer a fast and non-contact method of assessing people's temperatures," said Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer at Nextiva. "The best part is, there is no need to wait three minutes" as with traditional mercury-based thermometers. Because it uses infrared technology, he added, "it also eliminates the risk of transmitting the virus, since the thermometers don't need to touch anyone, which reduces the chances of the virus sticking to the device and transferring to another person."

Implementing mandatory temperature checks can bring peace of mind to employees and customers. However, employers should be aware of the disadvantages of performing temperature checks with non-contact infrared thermometers. For one, infrared thermometers will not catch all cases of the coronavirus, because not everyone who has the virus gets a fever, and fever-reducing medications affect the results of the checks, the FDA warns. Moreover, temperature checks may lead you to turn away customers who don't actually have COVID-19, because other conditions may result in an elevated temperature.

As previously noted, non-contact infrared thermometers must be used properly to ensure an accurate reading. For example, positioning the device incorrectly or obstructing the forehead may lead to inaccurate results. In addition, Masjedi said, these thermometers require calibration. Because IR thermometers are electronic devices, the environment – particularly humidity – can affect their accuracy. 

Infrared thermometers must be used in close proximity to the person being evaluated, so you also run the risk of spreading the virus to the person who is performing the evaluation. To avoid this, it is important for the person performing the temperature check to wear PPE.

Employers should also be aware of the legal risks associated with using infrared thermometers and performing temperature checks.

"Employers should have appropriate written consent from employees in advance of taking temperatures or screening information and clarify that the test is not for a clinical diagnosis but as a tool in promoting a safer work environment," said Matsis-McCready.

Non-contact thermometer FAQs

What is an infrared thermometer?

An infrared (IR) thermometer, also known as a non-contact thermometer, is a device used to measure the temperature of an object or a person without the use of direct contact. These thermometers are used in a variety of industries, including automotive, HVAC, firefighting and food service. But recently, businesses from many other industries have started using them to check for fevers to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Infrared thermometers are a good alternative to traditional mercury-based thermometers, as they reduce the risk of virus transmission and cross contamination. Although there are various IR thermometer options on the market, only certain ones are acceptable for use on humans.

How do you check your temperature with an infrared thermometer?

To check your temperature, only use a non-contact infrared thermometer that has been approved for use on humans. Follow the instructions in the user manual of the specific device you are using. However, as a general guideline, you will hold the calibrated device about 2 to 6 inches from your forehead (the distance will vary based on the device), with the laser pointed perpendicular to your clean, dry forehead. Do not have any obstructions or shiny objects in the way (like glasses or sunglasses). The device will display results almost immediately. Allow several seconds between temperature checks.

How do infrared thermometers work?

Non-contact infrared thermometers are easy to use: Just point the laser perpendicularly to the object you are testing (e.g., a person's forehead). The infrared radiation is turned into heat, which is turned into electricity and causes a temperature reading. Higher temperatures send more electricity to the detector, resulting in a higher thermometer reading.

Are non-contact thermometers accurate?

Non-contact infrared thermometers are proven to be an accurate and reliable way to measure temperature and screen people for fevers; however, they need to be used correctly. Each infrared thermometer should come with instructions on how to properly prepare, use, clean and store it.

"Companies utilizing infrared thermometers should review the guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and ensure they are operating whichever thermometer they choose correctly so as to reduce the risk of inaccurate readings," said Matsis-McCready. "The designated individual taking temperatures, preferably from HR or another manager, should also be given appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)."

When and how often should you clean or disinfect a non-contact thermometer?

One great thing about non-contact thermometers is that they can be used repeatedly without being cleaned or disinfected between each use. Every thermometer is different and should come with its own set of instructions on how often it should be cleaned. However, you should always clean a dirty lens or housing as necessary and sanitize the device between each evaluator (the employee who is holding the thermometer to test others). 

How should you care for and store the thermometer?

Keep your infrared thermometer clean and free of moisture, dirt, dust, smoke or other particles. Each thermometer may have specific instructions on how to care for it, but in general, you can clean your device by dampening a soft cloth with water or alcohol and gently wiping the lens and body. Never submerge the thermometer in liquid. Always allow the device to dry before storing it, and keep the device in moderate temperatures. Be aware that temperature fluctuations can damage thermometers or cause inaccurate readings. 

How do you reset an infrared thermometer?

Each thermometer may have specific instructions on how to reset it. However, for some devices, you can reset them by simply removing the batteries, waiting a couple of minutes and then reinstalling the batteries. The device will typically display an error message, like "Er," when it needs to be reset.

How do you calibrate an infrared thermometer?

Make sure your device is calibrated before each use to ensure an accurate temperature reading. Each thermometer may have specific instructions on how to calibrate it. If you are not given specific instructions on how to calibrate the device, try this method to get an accurate reading. First, fill a glass with ice and a little water, and let it sit for a few minutes to build condensation. Next, aim the thermometer at the glass, and check the temperature. It should say 32°F (0°C). If it does not, hold the reset button and test again. Keep in mind that some devices come with an auto-calibration function or a user manual with specific calibration instructions.

What is a normal forehead temperature with an infrared thermometer?

The average body temperature is generally considered 98.6°F (37°C), although some studies have shown that the average body temperature can range between 97°F (36.1°C) and 99°F (37.2°C). An infection- or illness-induced fever is often regarded as a temperature above 100.4°F (38°C).

When non-contact infrared thermometers are used to test forehead temperatures, readings are often lower than the average body temperature (even with a fever). Although normal forehead temperatures vary based on the environment, you can expect to see an average skin surface temperature reading between 91°F (32.8°C) and 94°F (34.4°C). Keep in mind that many digital non-contact infrared thermometers take out the guesswork by using color codes (e.g., red, yellow, green) to tell you if a fever is present.

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. She received a business communication degree from Arizona State University and spent a few years traveling internationally, before finally settling down in the greater New York City area. She currently writes for business.com and Business News Daily, primarily contributing articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviewing categories such as remote PC access software, collection agencies, background check services, web hosting, reputation management services, cloud storage, and website design software and services.
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