Friday, October 16, 2015

Are CCTV images available for workplace health and safety purposes?

If you travel on public transit, visit a public school, or simply walk in the hallway of your office building, there is a good chance your movements and actions are being caught on closed circuit television (CCTV). A 2007 ePolicy Institute survey found almost half (48%) of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to detect and discourage theft, violence and sabotage; some use CCTV to monitor work performance.  
Video monitoring and surveillance systems in the workplace are usually justified for public safety and the security of property.  What may be overlooked is their value to joint health and safety committees in investigating workplace hazards, injuries, and near misses.
Every institution or organization that has CCTV should have a policy regarding its live and recorded images.  Most jurisdictions have laws or guidelines for businesses and public bodies regarding CCTV (Guidelines for Overt Video Surveillance in the Private Sector March 2008  and Public Sector Surveillance Guidelines January 2014 are good examples of a concise, easy to follow guideline that addresses most privacy concerns)  These rules typically address purpose, signage and access but are often written from a privacy and security of property perspective; rarely do CCTV policies include worker health and safety among the reasons for surveillance.
Any business or institution with a CCTV installation should have policies that outline the purpose of surveillance and the rights of workers (and others) whose images are captured, recorded and retained.  A comprehensive policy will specifically address access  rights of workplace health and safety committees and safety officers to live or recorded images in carrying out their required duties.  Procedures will include specifics on how video records of workplace incidents, accidents and related events are requested and secured.  These video records are evidence that may have an important bearing on investigations into causation or proving adherence (or violation) of OH&S laws and regulations. 
Every place with a video camera is someone’s workplace.  A park is a groundskeeper’s workplace.  A transit platform is a transit attendant’s workplace.  A public hallway in a school is the workplace of custodians, teachers, teaching assistants, and others in the course of their employment (copier service technician, courier, fire inspector).  As you walk through your workplace and the workplaces of others that you encounter in your day, think about how the CCTV cameras you see could be used for worker health and safety purposes.  Here are a few examples to get you started:
A joint health and safety committee or safety officer could use CCTV to:
  • Investigate the source of reported hazards (oil in a hall that is a risk of slips and falls)
  • Confirm witness descriptions (a reported incident of an act of force by a dementia patient)
  • Observe a specific risk (congestion in a passageway during a fire drill)
  • Establish the sequence of events that led up to an injury
I’m neither advocating for more CCTV nor proposing new controls on CCTV use.  What I am suggesting is that every organization that uses CCTV (or any of the proliferating video capture technologies) explicitly address worker health and safety in their video surveillance policy and procedures.  Joint health and safety committees and corporate safety officers should review their access to video records for the health and safety purposes.  If no policy regarding the use of CCTV for worker health and safety currently exists, the issue should be addressed in the next policy review.  Once a policy does exist, workers and managers need to be made aware of the policy as it may pertain to them in the course of their employment.  This is critical to preserving the video record for potential use in the health and safety investigation.   
With the plunging cost of video capture and recording technologies and their growing use in workplaces, workplace injuries, exposures and risks will increasingly be captured in video records.  CCTV and other recorded images may be impersonal but their objective witness to events may reveal the cause of otherwise contentious injuries and exposures as well as expand opportunities to improve workplace health and safety. As the capture and retention of video images of people at work and in the course of their employment proliferates, policies that support their proper use for health and safety purposes need to be developed, formalized and maintained.    
Some Questions for Joint Health and Safety Committees (for a specific incident, near miss or health/safety issue):
  • Would a video record of the incident assist in the investigation?
  • Was the area of a reported hazard, incident, near miss or injury being examined by the committee under video surveillance? (This is an important question even if the incident is not on the employer’s worksite.)
  • Does the current policy regarding video surveillance include worker health and safety within its purpose?
  • Does the policy define the retention and terms of access for the committee?
  • What are the procedures for the committee to request and view CCTV and other captured images for the purposes of carrying out their duties?

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