Mind Your Business: Surveillance Technologies for Workplace Safety and Wellbeing

Investigating the efficacy and use of workplace health and wellbeing monitoring technologies. This project was funded under the Melbourne Law School's 2021 Research Excellence Grant scheme.

There is increasing interest in using technology that surveils or monitors workers for the apparently worthwhile purpose of promoting workplace safety and wellbeing. Examples include eyelid monitoring to watch for sleepiness in truck drivers, scanning of open areas in workplaces to monitor observance of public health measures, computer vision for ensuring employees are wearing mandatory safety equipment, wearables to collect information on the extent to which workers are unhealthily stationary for long periods of time, and various mental health apps designed for use by employees.

While there is potential for such programs to yield positive benefits, the roll out of these technologies is posing ethical and legal concerns in many areas. This is because they increase the scrutiny placed on employees while they work, and open the opportunity for considerable amounts of data to be collected about employees from which as yet unforeseen inferences may be drawn. Reinforcing these concerns are questions about the efficacy of these technologies, which are often marketed on the premise of improving the wellbeing and productivity of employees, albeit unaccompanied by evidence of the product's success.

The risks identified as emerging from this kind of technological monitoring include the eroding of privacy and freedom, shifting the distribution of power in the workplace, and unintended consequences on mental health, job prospects, and medical insurance for employees (and their families).

In deploying new technologies, consideration is often only given to what is technologically possible. Consideration of the consequences for human lives of technologies is very commonly neglected or given only cursory attention. Furthermore, examining other fields of research, including medicine/healthcare, law, and ethics, is vital for understanding the holistic experience and effects of the technology on employers, employees, and the interpersonal dynamics between them

Research Team