What would you do if the driver of the bus your five year old child took to school every day had a bad reputation for texting while driving? New technologies and the widespread use of the internet and cell phones, all create new opportunities for employees to become distracted while on the job (Lim, 2002).
Actions like making calls, checking messages and texting can all be fairly harmless when done in some workplaces, but when certain jobs require the full attention of the worker, such as in the case of public transportation operators, cell phone use on the job puts passengers’ safety incredibly at risk. This is causing many companies to discuss how to best ensure the safety of customers.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is dealing with this very issue by installing video cameras aimed at Metro line operators to enforce their employee conduct code that drivers refrain from using their cell phone while on the job. Cell phone usage was originally banned in 2008 by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates California’s passenger rail operations, such as Muni and BART, after a train collision in Los Angeles County that killed 25 people and injured over 100 others when the locomotive engineer was discovered to have been text messaging at the time (SFGate, 2011).
In San Francisco, a similar incident occurred in June 2008 after a Muni Metro collision on the Embarcadero sent 12 people to the hospital when a T-Third train collided with an N-Judah train that had been stopped at a stoplight. In this case investigators believe that the operator had been talking on their cell phone – a violation of Muni’s policy that bars the use of cell phones on all trains, buses and cable cars (SFGate, 2011).
Muni operators are still able to carry cell phones, they just need to be turned off and put away while on the job. This new rule is permanent and Muni will be using these video cameras so that their employees think twice before using cell phones on the job. The contention recently put forward that this is a “Big Brother-like provision,” overlooks the overriding vital issue of public safety (SFGate, 2011). Muni is a public service that is responsible for the safety of its passengers and erring on the side of caution to prevent a tragedy, like the 25 deaths that occurred in L.A., seems extremely appropriate.
However, one important question that has been raised asks how Muni will be planning on monitoring all of the surveillance video that will be collected from these cameras? Will footage be retroactively checked after an accident or monitored live to scan for misconduct? Maybe Muni even has plans to develop custom video analytics to make monitoring employee behavior for cell phone use more efficient! Your guess is as good as ours.