Addressing Potential Union Concerns About AI Safety Tech

Brittany DeRafelo

May 15, 2024

Unions exist to protect their members and elevate the voices of their members. It’s only natural that new workplace innovations like camera vision and AI can raise concerns. Let’s take a moment to discuss these concerns and explore how these new technologies can positively impact all involved.

I believe safety leaders, labor unions, and safety tech innovators like Voxel share the same goals for a safer workplace and more prosperous workforce. As a Senior Manager in EHS and Risk Management, I consider myself a partner with union leadership. I deploy the ESAB value of Every Voice Valued and keep an open door of communication with the team. My role is to maintain a supportive environment, educate the team on the components of a strong safety culture, and encourage the team to champion cultivating what that safe working environment looks like for them. Here are some concerns escalated by labor unions about AI safety tools like Voxel, how I address them, and tips for achieving union buy-in to benefit everyone.

Union Concerns About AI Safety Solutions:

  • Employee Privacy
  • Supervisor Accountability
  • Cybersecurity
  • Impact on Compensation and Capital Investment

Employee Privacy

Privacy tops the list of concerns when discussing AI with union members. They primarily worry about facial recognition, constant surveillance, and being penalized for minor policy infractions. 

Facial Recognition

This is the most common concern we heard from our union leadership. Luckily, it was also the easiest to address. First, I reminded our union leaders that work areas are assigned and the organization is aware of staffing based on schedules, workflow, etc. Second, we clarified that Voxel’s privacy policy and technology does not identify individuals by face, and can even blur faces upon request. Ensuring anonymity and safety for everyone eased their concerns. 

Big Brother

When AI and surveillance are involved, Unions had a neutral apprehension about intrusive monitoring. To address this concern, we discussed Voxel's driving purpose, which is to identify risky acts and conditions systematically. We then want to correct risky acts by instituting controls that are not people specific, but eliminate or decrease the overall risk. To alleviate fears of constant surveillance, we made clear agreements on cameras and usage – we collectively decided where security cameras would be placed and what unsafe behaviors Voxel could identify. In partnership with the union, we utilized Workers’ Compensation incident trends and near miss reports to identify the areas with the highest risk. We also incorporated some flexibility where we will review incident trends every six months and move 25% of cameras where priority has decreased. 

Minor Policy Violations

At ESAB, we use Voxel not as a disciplinary tool but as a strategic resource to help us develop preventive safety measures. One of those measures is by educating and reinforcing safe behaviors across our workforce, without assigning blame or singling anyone out. Of course, there are instances when egregious violations occur, and these need addressing to ensure they don't happen again. We've worked closely with union leadership to  define what constitutes a minor versus an egregious violation clearly and have tailored our responses accordingly. Minor violations involve guidance without discipline and implementation of countermeasures, while egregious violations are handled on a case by case basis. All these protocols are documented in the ESAB Voxel Policy which the union assisted drafting to ensure transparency and fairness in our approach. 

Supervisor Accountability

Unions view supervisor accountability just as essential for maintaining a safe, fair, and compliant workplace. Solutions like Voxel increase visibility to unsafe acts and environments such as obstructed emergency exits, near-miss vehicle incidents, hazardous material presence, poor ergonomics, and missing PPE. Just as an organization expects an associate to maintain safe working environments, it is leadership’s responsibility to address and mitigate the hazards. The leadership team is ultimately responsible for identifying the root causes and decreasing or eliminating the associated hazards. This team environment builds the strongest culture. 

At ESAB, management commits to safety improvements driven by Voxel's insights. In partnership with the union, we integrated a policy into our EHS procedures that requires every member of leadership to take 5 data-driven safety actions weekly. These actions range from training on proper bending techniques to replenishing PPE, ensuring that leadership uses this data to foster a safer work environment. It also holds the leadership team accountable for prioritizing their worker’s safety, and sparks positive change in behaviors. 

Cybersecurity

“Does Voxel video leave the company?” was a common question among our union leadership, as well from our IT team. The amount of the video and data that Voxel provides can be overwhelming, especially with the fears around breaches and generative AI. Going into depth on Voxel’s security policy helped ease our union’s and IT concerns. 

Voxel adheres to the highest cybersecurity standards in the industry and will keep up with those standards as tech advances. It is SOC-2 certified, full end-to-end encryption to maintain data confidentiality and security, and is built with hardened cloud infrastructure to strengthen defenses against cyber attacks. Additionally, Voxel does not sell its data to third parties. Its video and analysis is designed to be used as internal tools for companies. 

Impact on Compensation and Capital Investment

A lot of the conversation about AI in the workplace centers around its threats to jobs. Unions are skeptical of any technology that could minimize the importance and role of their membership. Luckily, Voxel’s use of AI underlines just how integral union members are to the workplace. It provides insights that make workplaces safer for members, and creates a mechanism to hold supervisors accountable creating that safer workplace.

As the number of accidents and incidents go down, this implementation of AI even has the added benefit of cutting costs related to insurance and OSHA fines. So there is more money in the pot for everybody without cutting jobs. In fact, the cost-savings can be used as capital investment to eliminate hazards from equipment and machines. 

Tips for Talking with Your Union

Here are some essential tips that have facilitated effective collaboration and trust between management and unions in order to get their union buy-in for safety tech like Voxel.

  • Communicate early and often. It’s important to keep union leadership in the loop. If you’re considering any large change to the workplace, it’s crucial to have open and honest dialogue. The last thing you want is for a union to feel ambushed or surprised.
  • Include union reps in the process. Genuinely engaging with unions in decision-making processes to build trust. We brought union representatives into the Voxel demo presentation, Q&A sessions, training calls and incident views which allowed forums for education and discussions around key concerns. 
  • Create a clear policy. A transparent, detailed policy in partnership with the union removes subjectivity, provides clarity and builds trust. Our policy describes the use of Voxel, indicates which security cameras have this technology, specifies the safety behaviors being monitored, communication protocols with unions, accountability measures, and roles and responsibilities of all associates. This approach ensures that all parties feel actively involved and understood.
  • Educate about the costs of workplace accidents. Beyond the terrible human toll of workplace accidents, educate union members about what incidents cost (direct and indirect), what the cost could look like if we reduced incidents with safety technology. Ask how the union would rather see that money spent? Is it new equipment? They will have no shortage of ideas.
  • Create safety incentives. What kind of safety incentives can you and the union agree on? Some fun incentives we’ve done are gift cards for employees and supervisors with the best safety records over a period of time, parties/meals for shifts or departments with the most improved safety records, etc. Be creative and open, this part is fun!

When it comes to workplace safety, it’s never been easier for union leadership, leadership, and third parties like Voxel to all be on the same side. I hope this post helps you build a safer, more equitable, more prosperous workplace. 

How Voxel Can Help

Voxel’s intelligence platform connects directly to your existing security cameras and then uses computer vision and AI to give you more visibility and insight into the safety of every site, every day. You’ll have the data you need to take impactful, preventative action that keeps employees safe and strengthens your safety culture. 


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