Leveraging Emerging Technology in the Post-Pandemic Workplace

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Ernest Hemingway’s character Mike in The Sun Also Rises quipped that profound and seemingly inexorable change occurs “gradually, then suddenly.”

Change of Calculus

Before the pandemic, adoption of emerging technologies within the workplace—artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics—was often considered an investment in an organization’s future competitiveness. However, in the age of social distancing, implementation of emerging technologies is quickly proving essential to prevent additional operational disruptions and enable the return of workers while adhering to safety protocols.

Businesses are leveraging a range of computer vision tools, proximity sensors, thermal imaging cameras, robots, and predictive analytics to address COVID-19 workplace challenges. This article addresses those issues and includes some questions to help successfully transition from the current crisis.

The Challenge

Returning millions of employees safely back to work requires planning and precision in execution. Employers face myriad potential legal challenges. Specifically, workplace-acquired COVID-19 might lead to workers’ compensation claims and claims related to lax compliance with safety requirements, including provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

On the other hand, going too far to prevent injury by infection could result in employers’ facing privacy and discrimination-related claims. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance earlier this year that employers may administer COVID-19 testing to employees reentering the workplace, thus emphasizing the ability and need for striking the right balance.

As the country opens back up, minimizing surface contact rates, testing, and maximizing space between employees will have many companies reconfiguring workspaces and looking to emergent solutions. Let us look at a few.

Machine Vision and Proximity Sensors

To facilitate workplace social distancing, Smartvid.io, an AI-powered enterprise risk assessment solution, recently released functionality for detecting close interactions and congregation of workers. Other technology vendors, like Drishti Technologies Inc., integrate worker proximity monitoring into safety and assembly monitoring solutions.

However, not all social distancing solutions and workplace safety technologies require the broad collection of sensitive employee biometric and personal data. For example, Proxxi recently introduced Halo, a wrist-worn sensor and band that vibrates to notify wearers that another band is within 6 feet.

With the goal of offering workplace safety technology solutions that are sensitive to compliance issues and privacy concerns, companies like Density.io and Halo are deploying proximity detection and contact tracing technologies  that measure and monitor workplace social density, while limiting the capture or transmission of personally identifiable information (PII).

While employee-focused proximity sensors, AI-powered monitoring tools, and contact tracing applications may provide new capabilities to enhance workplace safety, it is imperative for employers to understand the risks incurred when adopting new technology.

To mitigate associated legal risks, HR departments should work with experienced legal counsel to ensure appropriate technology assessment and evaluation procedures are followed before its adoption and throughout the technology’s life cycle.

Thermal Imaging Cameras

Thermographic cameras—also known as infrared or thermal imaging cameras—can detect body and object heat signatures. Thermal imagery is the operative technology enabling hand-held, noncontact thermometers, the variant of the technology that has been most widely deployed at workplace points of entry.

When layered with machine vision software, thermal imaging can be used for automated detection and assessment of individuals within groups. As businesses begin to reopen, employers ranging from food production to fulfillment centers to grocers and casinos are increasingly modifying workplace safety procedures and leveraging thermal imaging technology to actively mitigate the introduction and spread of the coronavirus in the workplace.

Adjusting to a new normal in a highly fluid environment presents many challenges for employers. Thermal imaging cameras and full-body thermal scanners may initially appear to provide an efficient safety screening option for employers.

However, these tools raise privacy, biometric data collection, and data retention concerns that should be carefully examined before adoption. These issues will continue to persist long after the technology’s adoption, and recurring evaluation procedures should be drafted and implemented to mitigate potential liability exposure.

Measuring an employee’s body temperature, whether via a handheld thermometer or telescopic thermal imaging camera, is considered a medical exam and employers need to maintain confidentiality of the information. While recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance allows employers to measure an employee’s body temperature during the pandemic, employers should be cautious about continued use of the practice in a post-pandemic workplace. Read more here…

Source: HR Daily Advisor

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