Safeguards needed on hi-tech work monitoring

Unite warns of unintended consequences of monitoring devices

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Unite has warned that safeguards must be fully implemented in workplaces to protect workers from the ‘unintended consequences’ of hi-tech monitoring following the promotion of this latest equipment for construction workers.

The company Kenzen is marketing a ‘monitoring platform’ that constantly tracks a worker’s heart rate, over-exertion and core body temperature, in order to detect when they encounter heat distress.

Major concerns

“Unite recognises that it is vital to prevent heat stress and heat exhaustion in the workplace but we have three major concerns about the monitoring platform,” said Jerry Swain, Unite National Officer.

Unite’s concerns are the use and storage of a worker’s private medical information, that companies installing the monitoring platform may become lax in implementing preventative measures like covering work areas from direct sunlight, providing extra breaks and free water and amending shift times to avoid the hottest times of day – instead only relying on the data to protect workers and that the monitoring could be used to target workers who suffer most from heat stress and then get rid of them from the workforce.

“The principles behind the development of these monitoring devices is sound because for several weeks every year heat distress and exhaustion are a real danger for construction workers. As well as making the worker ill, it can dramatically increase the danger of them suffering an accident,” said Swain.

Victimise workers

“However, the unintended consequences of this form of hi-tech monitoring are very serious and there is a real danger that employers will either fail to implement preventative matters, or use the data to victimise workers,” he added.

Deplorable practices

Such deplorable practices are more likely in construction where the vast majority of the workforce are bogusly self-employed, work via umbrella companies or workers do not have employment rights as they have been employed for under two years.

“It is ironic that construction workers are increasingly under the highest level of monitoring but have the fewest employment rights,” said Swain.

The Kenzen device follows hot on the heels of concerns that Unite raised last month about the potential misuse of personal information generated from hi-tech hard hats that are designed to ensure social distancing.

“If such technology is to be introduced it is vital to secure the support of the workforce and that there are clear agreements on what the monitoring can and can’t be used for. To ensure the necessary safeguards are in place such agreements should be made with the relevant union,” said Swain.

Secure justice

“If an employer is found to be using any form of hi-tech monitoring unfairly or inappropriately and it affects a Unite member, the union will use all possible avenues to secure justice,” he added.

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