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When Does Tracking Workers Make Sense?

The right system can provide safety, privacy and security, and serve the interests of both a company and its employees.
By John Shoemaker

What about Big Brother?
A worker-location system does not necessarily track an employee's every movement, nor does it need to record the worker's trail. Typically, when there is a special reason to provide visibility of personnel within a facility, active RFID readers can be installed by zone.

Without a reader, there is no tracking. Many applications have no need to monitor workers in-building.

Once "emergency mode" is activated, a reader installed outside the building identifies workers as they leave the facility or approach a muster station. Such stations can communicate with each other wirelessly to ensure full visibility for all personnel, regardless of which muster station they use. However, once a staff member leaves the worksite and moves beyond the reader's 1,500-foot read range, he or she can no longer be tracked. A smartphone-based system, by way of contrast, is capable of monitoring workers 24-7, anywhere on the planet.

Readers can be installed at a plant's entry and exit points to capture every worker's arrival on the grounds, even if an individual arrives or leaves by car. Company vehicles can also be tagged, in order to monitor their authorized usage. While the battery-powered tags worn by employees inside vehicles can be interrogated as they enter and leave, they can no longer be read once the vehicles travel outside the system's read range of 1,500 feet.

Safety officers can rely on fixed readers installed at strategic locations to automatically capture data as necessary. As such, workers need not be tracked all the time while on premises. Systems can be turned off during normal operations, and be automatically activated during an event. With such RFID deployments, Big Brother becomes a non-issue.

Leaders or safety officers can also utilize a variety of mobile devices—tablets or smartphones—in conjunction with RFID readers. For example, Identec will soon be launching a new handheld reader (about the size of an iPhone 5) that can read Identec active UHF tags located up to 300 meters (980 feet) away and forward the data to a tablet or other handheld device via Bluetooth. Such a setup could be carried to a muster station, where it can easily read the tags of every worker gathering at that station.

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