Lariza Hebert, Contributor
It can be challenging to employers to provide safe work environments for lone workers. Some innovative employers are outfitting lone workers with technological devices, such as smart watches and apps. While this might be a good idea in theory, employers should be mindful of the legal challenges involved in providing such a device to employees.
Lone workers are those who perform tasks carried out in isolation from other workers—without close or direct supervision. Examples of tasks lone workers may perform include scaling heights, exploring deep crevasses or simply performing solo installation jobs. Typically, when a worker is injured on the job, a coworker or supervisor will witness the incident and be able to take action or help. Lone workers, however, lack the benefit of another set of eyes on or near them. Often, because these workers are alone and there is no one to assist them, they are at higher risk for on the job injures. Thus, employers are providing lone workers with devices that can be used to help track and keep lone workers safer in the workplace. These safety devices are equipped to detect certain actions and alert appropriate persons.
Many of the safety devices provide for 24/7 live monitoring, allowing them to function throughout any time of day. For instance, when an alert is activated on a Blackline G7c device because of a worker’s fall, agents receive the alert and notify responders. Additionally, some devices incorporate walkie talkie-like capabilities, such as allowing works to partake in two-way voice calling and push-to-talk calling. Even the Apple watch has a fall detection app, which will notify the person’s emergency contact. Lone safety worker apps, such as StaySafe, has seen a large increase in subscribers, its intent to provide service in remote working areas.
The number of users using GPS and cellular technology protection services and numbers are predicted to grow from 500,000 in 2017 to 1.1 million by 2022. In North America, over 40% of lone worker safety solutions are based on smartphone and tablet applications, with predictions that this figure will grow.
Benefits of Providing Employees with Safety Devices
Most importantly, lone worker safety devices help prevent injuries and fatalities by affording a faster response and medical attention, when necessary. Additionally, lone worker safety devices can enable employees that are working alone to feel more protected, which can assist in employee retention and hiring.
Maintain Employee Privacy
Privacy is always a top priority for employees; employees do not want to feel like their privacy rights are being violated by their employer. Generally, when an employee uses an employer-provided device, such as a laptop, he or she has no expectation of privacy. However, lone worker devices not only are enabled with GPS functions, but many include monitoring the health of workers, such as heart rate. Employers should take precaution to maintain confidentiality, pursuant to federal and state laws, including (but not limited to) the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In providing lone worker safety devices to employees, there are certain things employers can do to mitigate employee privacy claims. This includes the cessation of monitoring when the employee is not on shift if the employee takes the safety device home; restricting employee data taken or transferred from the device to Human Resources and need-to-know personnel only; and implementing a use policy related to the device.
If outfitting employees with safety devices, employers should first put the parameters in writing and train employees on the proper way to use the device, as with any other PPE. Using a safety devices triggers responsibility to perform a hazard assessment; consider alternatives to protect the employee; train employees in the use and care of the PPE, including how to clean, maintain or replace; and prepare a plan that is periodically reviewed.
A workplace policy should specify when employees must wear the safety device; what happens if the safety device is damaged or not operating; what happens to the device upon employee separation; and who will/will not have access to the information obtained from the safety device. Finally, it is important to obtain written consent from the employee before implementing use of lone worker safety devices. IHW
Lariza Hebert, is an Associate in Fisher Phillips’ Houston office