by Angela Morley, JD, MPH; Gayle DeBord, PhD; and Mark D. Hoover, PhD, CHP, CIH

Wearable sensors are all the rage. They give us information about our health, fitness, productivity and safety.  However, downsides to this technology are accuracy and security of the data and challenges to personal privacy. How wearable technology is used in occupational safety and health research and practice is evolving.  Wearable sensors can detect and alert workers to harmful exposures and can assist employers in managing their workforce.  For example, the NIOSH-developed Portable Dust Meter is used in underground mining to measure how much dust a worker is exposed to during a work shift. Commercially-available four gas meters are worn by workers to alert them of dangerous gas levels.   As wearable sensors become more commonplace and useful for monitoring employee safety and health, values conflict and ethical dilemmas arise that need to be addressed.

A perspective from the past

Employee monitoring programs for medical surveillance are not new. Schulte and DeBord (2000) discussed some of the components of a genetics monitoring program and many of the issues raised in those discussions are relevant to current concerns for wearable sensors. For example: What are the goals of the monitoring program? How will the results be communicated? How will the data be used?  Will informed consent be sought?  These types of questions should be asked and answered as part of any employee monitoring program.

A proposed ethical framework for decision-making about employee monitoring

To ensure that innovation does not outpace thoughtful consideration of ethical issues, an ethical framework such as that proposed below can be used as a decision-making tool. The framework sets out key ethical objectives and values relevant to a decision.

Potential monitoring programs should be...Click here to read the rest of the blog post.