Using the Digital Hawthorne Effect to Improve Safety at Work

inline-i-centrcamera-lense-and-chipI ran across a Fast Company article discussing a new 360 degree action camera that has been invented by former Apple Engineer Paul Alioshin.  What’s new about is is the ease in which it captures events from all angles.  The device is called the Centr.  It is in the same category as the GoPro camera that has received so much attention lately.

The article got me thinking about uses for this technology in the work place.  I think there is a real opportunity here to permanently change employee behavior to be safer.  By instituting constant digital video monitoring in the workplace that creates a digital record of each individuals actions, the processes involved in the Hawthorne Effect will modify employee behavior.  I think we already have a good example of this:  traffic cameras.  Once the presence of the camera is common knowledge to drivers, their behavior changes.  They know that the technology is ever vigilant and a negative outcome (a ticket with fine) is nearly certain.

We have this same opportunity in the workplace.  The use of digital video via a camera like the Centr by employees will create an ongoing Hawthorne Effect.  I envision it would be built into their headwear or otherwise on their person.  Employees should be fully informed of the video record of their behavior both for personal privacy issues and to create the desired recognition that there is a record of their actions.  Employees who are knowledgeable of the safety and environmental rules will conclude that the records creates a certainty that any deviation from those rules will be in the record and they can be held accountable.  A rational employee will determine the risk of easily documented noncompliance far outweighs the potential gain.  Soon, certain and negative consequences are a powerful behavioral motivator (soon, certain and positive is the most powerful).  That is exactly what digital image technology like Centr can be used to deliver.

So does this create a Big Brother atmosphere?  Yes, it does.  Legal controls will need to be put in place.  The unprecedented level of digital observation in public places in place today is already forcing our country (and others) to develop laws on the topic of privacy outside of private residences.  With such reasonable controls in place, I believe the increased safe behavior created by the use of digital imaging like Centr outweighs the privacy concerns in the work environment.

 

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About Chet Brandon

I am a highly experienced Health, Safety and Environmental Professional for Fortune 500 Companies. I love the challenge of ensuring HSE excellence in process, manufacturing and other heavy industry settings. The connection of EHS to Sustainability is a fascinating subject for me. I believe that the future of industrial organizations depends on the adoption of sustainable practices.
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