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11 August 2021

How Workers Cheat Control Systems (and How to Cope with It)

Construction and emergencies are firmly linked terms. The security issue is very acute here: if it is violated, companies incur billion dollar losses or even face criminal liability. To reduce risks, businesses monitor workers in construction. However, these systems are not always effective. Let’s see how they are cheated by employees and what can be done about it. How Workers Cheat Control Systems (and How to Cope with It)

Methods for monitoring and controlling workers at construction sites

There are currently four methods of control that can be also applied in combination. The first and most common one is an access control system (ACS). People pass through a checkpoint with RFID cards.

The second method is video analytics: when video cameras are installed along the perimeter, the system recognizes faces and gives a signal to open or close doors for employees. If the face identification is not possible, the third method is required - manual verification. A person who monitors the results of video analytics may check documents and either let an unrecognized employee pass or deny the access.

The fourth option is thermal sensors for health monitoring. They’ve been heavily used since the beginning of the pandemic. Thermal imaging detects whether an employee has a high body temperature or not. 

Workplace monitoring during the working hours is often a tracking through video analytics. The company's territory is marked out into areas and has indications where each employee is allowed to stay. If an employee enters an area where he or she is not allowed to be, or if there is a smoking area where people are not allowed to stay longer than five minutes per hour, the supervisor is notified. Everything is automated to such an extent that an employee can receive a message on his/her phone with a request to return to workplace.

Why Monitoring Is Important

As businesses today are investing a lot of money in security, the old issues like theft of tools and other items become less and less frequent, and another problem is escalating: inefficient use of working time. The problem is acute when employees are not working at all or partially, resting at the workplace or leaving it. The latter is relevant for situations with monthly salaries, not wages. Employees walk through, the system recorded their arrival, then they might find a loophole to get out of their workplace, and leave for a neighboring construction site. They can end up getting paid in two places: a salary in one and a wage in another one.

Workplace monitoring is also important to protect employees. Сonstruction poses a high risk of injury – it accounts for more than 51% of occupational accidents and injuries in Saudi Arabia. Most of them are due to human errors: 42% of the accidents occur due to worker’s violation of safety rules by non-usage of personnel protective equipment. For example, an employee gets into an area where high voltage is present or vehicles are driving or a crane is operating. If an employee is unauthorized and has no personal protective equipment (PPE), there is a high risk of injury. And this means lost time, suspension of the facility, social payments - in 2019, the average cost of a medically consulted injury was $42,000, while the average cost per death was $1,220,000. Moreover, management can face criminal penalties if the person is found to have been in an unauthorized area without permit and PPE. An important fact is, that the frequency of injuries at small factories is twice as high as at larger ones: because the budgets for occupational safety and health are not comparable.

How Workers Cheat Controls

The ACS is easy to cheat: for example, by handing over your card to a colleague. Even though the security officer may have a photo of the person the pass belongs to, the human factor may still play a role. For example, 500 people pass through the checkpoint in 15 minutes in the morning. It's physically impossible to track everyone.

The second way to cheat is that the system does not instantly close the aisle when the turnstiles are passed. The first employee opens with a pass and the second slips easily. Especially if there is a fan-shaped turnstile with the doors swinging open to the sides.

However, it's more difficult with video analytics, biometrics are hard to cheat. But cameras have blind spots that an employee can walk through. Moreover, the responsibility of security officers is always an issue: they can be negotiated, an employee may say that he or she forgot the pass. And a security officer may not always know if it is really a company’s employee and will let the person through.

Thermal imaging cameras can make errors. A real case – after having some very spicy food a worker was scanned with a thermal imager and it showed that body temperature was 39 C. When the security officers took the temperature on worker’s hand - everything was fine. 

How to Ensure Effective Monitoring

Modern digital solutions like wearable devices can detect the employee deception and run more effective controls for various purposes. The first one is use of working time. The second one is health: temperature, heart rate and other indicators. The third one is safety. It works the same way as a conventional pass: perimeter sensors collect data from the wearable employee tag. 

The SmartTeam solution uses wearable devices such as a watch or a regular work T-shirt with a connected smart box tracker, а little Bluetooth beacon like people have in gyms. It allows to monitor the employee locations, arrival time and activity. If an employee, for example, falls asleep on the workplace, he or she will receive an alert and the supervisor will be notified.

Health and safety monitoring is also linked to heart rate, body temperature, fatigue data (all necessary indicators of physical condition are set and tested in medical and scientific labs). Three sensors take readings continuously, and the system uses mathematical algorithms to determine if everything is okay. For example, employees are required to secure themselves when working at height, but sometimes people ignore this rule. The system can detect a sudden fall, understand whether the person is moving or not afterwards, give a signal to the control panel with status data and coordinates. This allows a quick response and saves lives.

Injury prevention is also possible. 
When working in the sun at the construction sites, employees often get heat stroke. The system promptly alarms the supervisor that an employee is about to have a heat stroke in five to seven minutes, and the employee is notified that he or she needs to leave for the rest area. 
This protects the company from losses due to the employee's subsequent inactivity.

However, the reduction of criminal liability risks is important, since the system records all employee's actions. Workers are to be briefed before entering the construction site. The wearable device is tethered to the employee, and we know exactly whether the employee has been trained, because the data remains in the system. In case of an emergency, all the information can be retrieved, the investigation is faster, and a more objective picture is formed. So, the company can disclaim responsibility for the emergency. In large organizations, this alone already pays for the cost of such systems.

At the end of the day, the system produces complete analytics of the working day with a map of movements and effective actions: how much time a person was physically active, or how much time an employee was in the smoking room. If an employee removes a wearable device, the system detects this and gives a warning signal. Several devices cannot be given to one employee - this is monitored within 20-30 minutes and a notification comes too. If necessary, these solutions are combined with video analytics: both to improve work efficiency and to enhance safety. 

Such systems are primarily aimed at construction, energy, oil and gas, service companies and metals and mining – the industries where health and safety come first but it’s also important to control the labor efficiency.

It is very important, how the company is going to position the innovation when implementing such systems. If the management says the device is necessary for total control, employees will resist the idea. If the management explains that this is to optimize internal business processes so that it will ease the people’s work, employees will respectively have a different attitude to it. Studies show that over 70% of employees agree to use wearable devices for safety at work, while only 60% agree to use them to monitor work efficiency. Therefore, the management should set the right focus when introducing an innovation.

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