Monday, March 23, 2015

Privacy and Emergency Contacts

The unthinkable happens, and an employee is injured on the job - after hours - and is being transported to the hospital. (Let's call our unfortunate, Fred). In a safety culture, the first goal is to prevent the unthinkable, but if such a thing were to happen, are we prepared to provide support and information in those first critical hours?

I'm talking about personal private information and the workplace. There is an exception to disclosing private information without direct consent in cases such as Fred's accident. Human Resources or Payroll typically collect this information on hire. Exceptions to direct consent are typically written in to the regulations to allow for quick disclosure of this information, to Fred's "In Case of Emergency" (ICE) contacts.

"If a reasonable person would consider that it is clearly in the interest of the individual and consent cannot be obtained in a timely way (for instance, emergency contacts)" - A guide for Businesses and Organizations on the Personal Information Protection Act, Rev. November 2008 (p. 27)

Typically this information is kept on the employee file, and is collected in the first few days on the job. There are a few things to consider, however.

  1. Is there a plan in place (say, annually) to confirm and update the emergency contact information?
  2. Is there a contingency in place to access this information after hours? 
  3. Do the supervisors know about this contingency plan?
  4. Is there continued protection of this information from unauthorized access? 
But what if we asked a broader question; can the employee self-manage their ICE contacts through a tag or on their cell phone, while still protecting their privacy rights? Paramedic Bob Brotchie began promoting the saving of "In Case of Emergency (ICE)" information on cell phones in 2005. His idea gained international attention as a result of the London terrorist bombings that year. The idea is to include emergency contact names in the phone directory (i.e. last name ICE) so that an emergency responder can quickly work out who to call. This has become a little more complicated as most phone screens now lock, but new apps have filled the need. 

The apps available have gone steps further including personal medical information, allergies, and so on. Keep in mind however that for emergency responders, wealth of detail hinders rather than helps their cause. Having an emergency contact to call (who can fill in on existing conditions, allergies) is of primary importance. 

Bob Brotchie has endorsed an ICE tag made in Canada that bypasses apps altogether and provides a durable tag that can be attached to a keychain, backpack, running shoe, or helmet. All that is included on the ICE tag is two contact names with phone numbers. Nothing else is disclosed.

An employer may offer such a tag to employees who work off-site and after hours, that they could voluntarily manage and update as necessary. This eliminates the privacy, currency, housing, and accessibility concerns of the traditional emergency contact form maintained on the personnel file.

Further reading:

Federal Privacy Emergency Kit

Information Sheet No. 5: Personal Employee Information

Evaluating apps:
When selecting a health-related app, pick one where the developer is open and transparent about their privacy policy, is specific on what information is being collected and how it will be used.  Ten Tips for Communicating Privacy Practices to Your App's Users