03 August 2020
This blog post looks into the rise in implanted employee microchips and the complications this brings.
While it may sound more like a science fiction novel, a growing number of UK companies are now seriously considering implanting microchips into their employees.
It’s been happening in Sweden for years, and more recently in the US too. Biohax, the Swedish company providing human microchip implants, has announced it is in talks with a number of UK companies, including a major financial services firm with hundreds of thousands of employees.
Biohax has already implanted over 4000 chips into the hands of people, including 800 customers of Swedish rail firm Statens Järnvägar, allowing them to travel instead of using a train ticket. They have also implanted chips into 85 employees of travel company TUI.
In the US, Three Square Market became the first company to microchip its employees – with over 50 staff taking up the offer of the free implant.
As well as helping restrict access to controlled areas, microchips can help staff quickly buy food from the canteen, enter their office building or access printers, all without the need for the usual identity access card. Unlike a card there’s no losing it, dropping it or forgetting it.
It’s not difficult to imagine how this technology could also be applied to the health and safety of staff. Monitoring heart rate and stress levels could help actively identify and manage staff wellbeing in the workplace.
Microchips could soon be used to track and monitor lone workers. For example, if a lone worker felt threatened or in danger, elevated levels of adrenaline in their bloodstream could automatically trigger an emergency response, the chip providing exact location details to emergency services. This scenario would bypass the current need for lone working staff to manually activate an alarm system. This could be the difference between life and death for an employee who may be unconscious after an attack while working alone.
More generally, new measurement technology is having a positive impact on HR teams and staff safety. Wearable sensors are being used in the construction industry to track worker fatigue. Fatigue is a known factor in workplace accidents but unlike more commonly understood impairments like alcohol and drugs, fatigue has traditionally been more difficult to accurately identify and mitigate against. Companies have also used data from wearable sensors to reduce gender bias at work.
For workers, though, the value of all this data gathering isn’t as clear. Company computer systems are frequently hacked, so employees cannot be 100% assured their personal & health data is securely stored. Furthermore, workers’ rights groups argue that such surveillance gives employers unreasonable power over employees.
For lone workers, current personal security apps and devices are already viewed with some suspicion. Staff may fear employers are using these systems to constantly track an employee’s whereabouts for reasons other than safety. This can often result in low usage levels, and therefore increased risks for staff working alone.