Between 2015 and 2016 in the UK, over 620,000 people reported a non-fatal injury at work. Twenty percent of the injuries were attributed to handling, lifting or carrying, and another 10 percent attributed to being hit by a moving object, as well as lesser known injuries. There is ever-growing guidance on how best to protect employees while increasing productivity, especially in high risk zones with moving machinery. But what if safety and productivity could be regulated by employees themselves?
The all-seeing Panopticon
In the 18th century, Jeremy Bentham designed his now famous Panopticon, a prison designed to allow its guards to see into each cell while prisoners were unable to see if they were being watched. Without confirmation one way or the other, prisoners modified their behaviour accordingly.
Commentators have more recently levied the same analysis at CCTV. Video surveillance trains cameras on public areas and their occupants. Citizens are under surveillance, but can never be sure if they are being watched at an exact moment. This level of uncertainty has proved a useful crime deterrent, but what of workplace safety?
Unlike the origins of CCTV or the Panopticon, workplace safety technology isn’t designed to catch what people are doing wrong, but rather to catch what an employer can do better. The most effective workplace technology solutions are those that reveal the previously unseen: the blind spot in a loading bay, a crowded pedestrian route in a warehouse. Based on the data from such systems, warehouse managers can improve the safety of the physical working environment for their teams. Increased visibility only comes through increased tracking and as Bentham envisaged, surveillance can mean self-regulation.
Picture a manufacturing company with three warehouses on a single site. Employees transfer pallets of goods between each warehouse before they are loaded onto lorries for distribution. The warehouse manager tells warehouse teams that a new safety system is in place to monitor the movement of their forklifts and moving machinery. Employees regulate their behaviour, knowing their movements may be inadvertently monitored as a result. Overall, workplace safety in all three warehouse increases and incident figures drop. What employees don’t know is that the safety systems are only on trial in one of the warehouses and the employees themselves are responsible for raising the overall safety of the entire site.
Despite seeming far fetched, the three warehouse scenario is a real example from one of Vero’s manufacturing clients. Although the technology was only installed in one warehouse, the productivity and safety improvements carried over to the next warehouse. Employees self-regulated their behaviour and increased the safety of themselves and their colleagues without realising.
Workplace surveillance, with all of the best intentions and productivity benefits, will occasionally come under scrutiny by employees. But implemented well, the right workplace technology brings inadvertent benefits with a wider impact than their original purpose.