Unite, the UK’s construction union, is warning that safeguards need to be fully implemented in the workplace to protect workers from the ‘unintended consequences’ of hi-tech monitoring.

Hi tech concerns

The union issued its warning following the promotion of the latest hi-tech monitoring equipment for construction workers. The company Kenzen is marketing a “monitoring platform’ that constantly tracks a worker's heart rate, over-exertion and core body temperature, in order to detect when they encounter heat distress.

Unite recognises that it is vital to prevent heat stress and heat exhaustion in the workplace but has three major concerns about the monitoring platform:

  1. The use and storage of a worker's private medical information
  2. That companies installing the monitoring platform may become lax in implementing preventative measures such as covering work areas from direct sunlight, providing extra breaks and free water and amending shift times to avoid the hottest times of day – instead only relying on the data to protect workers
  3. The monitoring to be used to target the worker(s) who suffer most from heat stress and then get rid of them from the workforce.

Lack of rights

Unite believes that such deplorable practices are particularly likely in construction where the vast majority of the workforce are bogusly self-employed, work via umbrella companies or workers do not have employment rights as they have been employed for under two years.

The Kenzen device follows hot on the heels of concerns that Unite raised last month about the potential misuse of personal information generated from hi-tech hard hats that are designed to ensure social distancing

Unintended consequences

Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “The principles behind the development of these monitoring devices is sound because for several weeks every year heat distress and exhaustion are a real danger for construction workers. As well as making the worker ill, it can dramatically increase the danger of them suffering an accident.

“However, the unintended consequences of this form of hi-tech monitoring are very serious and there is a real danger that employers will either fail to implement preventative matters, or use the data to victimise workers.

 “It is ironic that construction workers are increasingly under the highest level of monitoring but have the fewest employment rights.

 “If such technology is to be introduced it is vital to secure the support of the workforce and that there are clear agreements on what the monitoring can and can’t be used for. To ensure the necessary safeguards are in place such agreements should be made with the relevant union.

 “If an employer is found to be using any form of hi-tech monitoring unfairly or inappropriately and it affects a Unite member, the union will use all possible avenues to secure justice.”


Notes to editors:

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.