OHS Canada Magazine

Big Brother can save lives if you draw a hard line on privacy

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February 21, 2023
By Todd Humber

Health & Safety editor pick privacy Safety Technology

The headline on the cover of the Winter 2023 issue of OHS Canada says it all. Technology has made it absolutely impossible to hide, which has huge upsides for worker safety and equally massive concerns for individual privacy.

Safety professionals and employers are only limited by their imagination when it comes to the ability to track and check-in on workers, regardless of where they’re located. Technological advancements have made almost anything possible.

Drawing the line

The mix of WiFi, cell signals and satellites mean we can keep tabs on staff — from Victoria in the west to St. John’s, N.L., in the east; from Windsor, Ont., in the south to Alert, N.T., in the north.

The only question, really, is where we draw the line — because the line has to be drawn.

The business case for investing in technology to track workers can’t be subsidized by thoughts of productivity improvements. If you tell a worker you’re adopting technology that will send alerts if they suffer a catastrophic fall or are exposed to unsafe levels of dangerous gases, you’ll get a nod and a thank you.


But if they hear that same technology also reveals how long they went on break, or exactly where they went, the smile will start to fade.

That’s where the line should be drawn: Safety systems are designed to ensure workers go home safe, not to give management an excuse to send staff packing.

Not all workers will embrace it: That’s OK

Not everyone will embrace this binary invasion of zeroes and ones. To ease the concern of staff, we have to tell the real-life stories — which is what we’re doing in these pages.

Because the truth is safety tracking and monitoring technology has already saved lives, both on the job and after hours. We know it has the potential to do more, and it’s on leadership to prove to workers that is the only goal of these systems.

There can be no crossing of the streams, to steal an ancient line from Ghostbusters. It doesn’t mean organizations can’t, or shouldn’t, monitor employees for HR purposes — but that technology needs to be completely separate from the safety gear.

To get sustained buy in, turn to some tried-and-true methods: Communication, HR policies and common sense need to come into play in a big way. Management needs to say, unequivocally, these systems are used for OHS and no other purpose. That means no mining of the data to support accusations or discipline, no matter how tempting.

Once that hurdle is crossed, most workers and unions will openly advocate for these systems. They’ll charge them, test them, wear them and embrace them.

AI and predictive tech

There are even more powerful tech possibilities on the horizon.

Safety experts and vendors are embracing artifical intelligence and predictive analytics to help turn all this real-world data into powerful prevention programs. That will enable even further shifts in the profession designed to stop injuries in their tracks.

It means, one day, a great safety program might sound a little like this: “Siri, keep my workers safe.”

Todd Humber is the senior editor for OHS Canada. 


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