The head of IT mentions he bought a Digital Angel for one of his kids for Christmas. â€œA digital what?â€ asks someone. He explains: Itâ€™s a wristwatch with five alerts. An emergency alert, a fall-down alert, a wander alert, a temperature alert and a low battery alert. A call service sends the alerts by email to your cell phone or PC.
â€œI got my son the GPS Kid Locator Tracker Backpack,â€ chimes in the HR manager. â€œNow I know where he goes soon as he gets off the bus.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t I read how global positioning systems are being used to assess behavior patterns in a cattle grazing project,â€ interjects the facilities manager.
Thatâ€™d be no surprise, says the head of research. Worldwide sales of GPS could be up to $10.8 billion by 2008. All cell phone companies are now required to offer GPS capabilities. And by 2006 four out of five new cars will be equipped with GPS. The head of research knows all.
Hmmm, says the owner of the organization. â€œSomething you said about â€˜behavior patterns.â€™ Iâ€™m putting two and two together here.â€
The circle of VPs draw their lounge chairs closer.
Here come the guardian angelsâ€œDoesnâ€™t safety want to execute a behavior-based coaching pilot in â€™05?â€ asks the owner. â€œSafety doesnâ€™t have enough people anymore to be the eyes and ears all over the plant, right? They want everyone to be their own safety coach, right?â€
â€œWell how about this,â€ the owner warms to his subject, getting excited. â€œInstead of pulling people off the line to, what do they call it, observe target behaviors at risk or whatever, why not just hook one of these GPS guardian angels on everyone?â€
â€œIâ€™ll be damned, an embedded workforce,â€ smiles the facilities manager.
â€œYou mean implants? Like electronic ankle bracelets on parolees?â€ asks someone.
â€œWeâ€™re talking asset management, fellas,â€ says the owner, looking around. He asks for the safety director. Up in her room checking emails, says someone. Bring her down, says the boss.
â€œRemember when you described to me the problems you have with accountability?â€ the owner says to the safety director when she arrives. â€œThat was a couple years ago,â€ she says. â€œProbably the last time we talked.â€ â€œWhatever. Iâ€™ve got your solution. Itâ€™s called My-Bodyguard or Lifeguard or Urban Tracker. Thereâ€™s all kinds out there.â€
Itâ€™s not the first time safety has walked in on a meeting with decisions already made. But whatâ€™s with these names?
â€œSafety always pulls up the rear applying new technology, we all know that,â€ says the owner. â€œWell, now weâ€™ve got a high-tech way to wipe out almost all our safety problems,â€ he explains. â€œResearch tells me 67 percent of employers now use some kind of electronic monitoring. Did you know global positioning systems are being used to track children, cattle, military movements, probationers, VIPs, taxis, garbage truck drivers, and Alzheimerâ€™s patients?â€
In Oakland, California, a GPS tracking system tells the city how long it takes road crews to fill a pothole, offers the marketing manager.
â€œNow thatâ€™s accountability,â€ beams the owner.
Itâ€™s big in healthcare, says the research manager. Thousands of nurses now wear badges that use infrared light for location tracking.
â€œWe did a Google search while we waited for you,â€ says the HR chief. â€œThese digital guardians are even being tagged on lawn mowers by landscaping crews.â€
Blinded by the fixBlindsided again, thought the safety director. Itâ€™s always scary when management brainstorms about safety fixes. â€œSo you want to implant our workforce? Iâ€™ll need to check the privacy laws.â€
â€œDonâ€™t bother,â€ pipes in legal counsel. â€œIn the vast majority of invasion of privacy cases, courts have ruled in favor of employer-defendants, finding a reduced expectation of privacy in the workplace and that an employerâ€™s business interests outweigh an employeeâ€™s privacy interest â€” unless of course you place a surveillance camera inside a bathroom or something like that. Otherwise, weâ€™re clean.â€
An impatient look darkens the owners brow. This is an unusually long discussion to have about safety. â€œThink of all the safety issues this takes off the table,â€ he says. â€œWe donâ€™t need employees with checklists looking over each otherâ€™s shoulders. We donâ€™t even need supervisors on the prowl. One person at a command console can map and monitor the whole facility.â€
â€œWe can set up geofences anywhere we want,â€ explains the IT chief. â€œOr reverse geofences.â€
â€œGeo what?â€ asks the safety director.
A geofence is an invisible boundary, like those dog fences, set around the person tagged with the personal locating device, explains IT. If they move outside their zone, command and control software signals an alert. A reverse geofence defines a no-go zone on a facility map. An unauthorized person enters that zone and they getâ€¦
â€œZapped like a barking dog?â€ asks the safety director. â€œI have trouble with all this, guys. Weâ€™re trying to build a culture of trust here. Treating employees like dogs wonâ€™t help.â€
Think of the possibilitiesâ€œDonâ€™t think animals, think children,â€ counters the owner. â€œA lot of this pinpointing is done out of love,â€ he says. Or paranoia, the safety director mutters under her breath. â€œThis thing, the KidBug, has a button to call mom, another to call dad. Itâ€™s for their safety,â€ says the owner.
â€œThink about it. You could block unauthorized personnel from confined spaces,â€ says the facilities manager. You could nab employees speeding on forklifts, or on their way home. You always want us to do more for off-the-job safety. Think how much more weâ€™d know about risks they take at home. When theyâ€™re on ladders. When theyâ€™re out biking or climbing.â€
â€œWe could set up geofences around accident-prone workers,â€ suggests HR. â€œFor their own protection, of course. You could write personalized safety rules for â€™em, where they can go and where they canâ€™t, and program tracking software to alert us when theyâ€™re breaking rules. Damn, now this is being proactive!â€
The safety director frowns. â€œIâ€™ve seen research on the effects of electronic monitoring in call centers. It stresses out people. You get complaints about anxiety, fatigue, numbness, even depression.â€
â€œThink positive,â€ says the owner. â€œGPS will be fabulous for tracking our solo workers. Weâ€™ll monitor who attends safety meetings, who goes to training class. Weâ€™ll follow our volunteer inspectors, see how thorough their audits really are.â€
â€œThis will show our employees we care, just like wanting to know where our kids are,â€ says HR. â€œItâ€™s about caring. And it will improve safety. And who knows, maybe it lowers headcount and saves us some beans.â€
The safety director twitches, like always, when headcount comes up. â€œHowâ€™s that?â€ she asks.
Maybe we donâ€™t need as many supervisors, or that fat BBS contract, who knows, says HR.
The safety director leaves the team of execs poolside and heads back to her room. I say Iâ€™m overworked and canâ€™t be everywhere, she thinks to herself. They say, put leashes on employees. Problem is, we never talk about safety long enough to get past the quick fixes.
â€” Dave Johnson, Editor