COVID-19 smell detection dogs pilot completed – encouraging results

YIT Koronakoirakaverit
YIT Koronakoirakaverit

YIT has invested heavily in proactive measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus throughout the pandemic. In early spring, YIT experimented using smell detection dogs to detect the virus as early as possible, especially on diverse construction sites. With wagging tails, the dogs sniffed almost 1,000 samples collected from more than ten construction sites. Among many other things, this inspiring experiment prevented the spread of infection on one very large construction site. It also highlighted the possibilities for the use of dogs in the future.
"The pilot was launched very quickly in a situation where virus variants spread in Finland at the beginning of February. We suspected that there might be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, especially on diverse construction sites with a large number of employees. These sites, identified as being at risk for the spread of the virus, were primarily included in the pilot," says Head of Group Health and Safety Kaisa Kuvanto on the initial stages of the project.

Dogs sniffing face masks and marking the smell of the virus was an important part of the process. The dogs had to be trained, a pilot team and operating model had to be built and volunteers instructed. On each site that participated in the pilot, face masks were collected, transported to a dog training centre and analysed. The results were reported to the sites concerned and to those who submitted a sample on the same day.
The staff warmly welcomed the voluntary experiment, which was communicated on these multifaceted construction sites in several languages, and ensured that those who might have received a positive result were able to apply for further testing. The participation rate was over 90%.
"The pilot attracted a lot of interest, and coronavirus awareness grew even more. We were able to trace several asymptomatic virus carriers on one site very quickly. In this experiment, too, cooperation was important and, in particular, the contribution and attitude of the construction sites was strong. Clarity of communication was emphasised at every stage. Diversity and multilingualism are commonplace for us. For this pilot, we trained interpreters to support the delivery of information. The feeling of caring among the teams on the sites was really rewarding," says Kaisa Kuvanto.

YIT carried out the pilot in close cooperation with WiseNose, which trains COVID-19 smell detection dogs. The dogs worked in their familiar training centre without any additional stress from the buzz and noise of construction sites. Efforts were made to ensure the homogeneity of the sample markings so that each sample was sniffed by more than one dog. 

"Data protection brings a challenge to such an experiment. There is always a reason for a dog's reaction to a sample. When a sample is given anonymously, we do not know the background of the person who gave it, for example, whether they have already had the coronavirus or whether they live with an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. Strong data protection was a joint and conscious decision, but it also made it difficult to find cause-effect relationships," says Heli Niuro, Project Manager at WiseNose.
The pilot team of YIT and WiseNose will document the results of the completed experiment. This extremely positive cooperation and experimentation will lead to a follow-up on what kind of exposure or other situations dogs could be used for in the construction industry in addition to identifying the virus. 

For further information, please contact
Kaisa Kuvanto, Head of Group Health and Safety, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 (0) 40 519 5934,
Heidi Kauppinen, Communications Manager, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 (0) 40 574 3170,
YIT is Finland's largest construction company and a significant player in the Northern European construction market. We create more sustainable, functional and attractive cities and living environments. We develop and build apartments, business premises and entire areas. We also specialise in demanding infrastructure construction. We own properties with our partners, which supports the implementation of our significant development projects. We also provide our customers with services that increase the value of properties. We employ about 7,400 professionals in 10 countries: Finland, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. In 2020, our revenue amounted to approximately EUR 3.1 billion. YIT Corporation's share is listed on Nasdaq Helsinki Oy.