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Can spying on workers be a good thing?

Warning signs alert staff and visitors to wash their hands at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. One company here in the U.S. has found a surprising way to enforce such health standards.

Jeremy Hobson: Do you work harder when someone is watching you? Well there's a company called Arrowsight that thinks you do. It's helping other companies install cameras in the workplace to make sure employees are doing their jobs correctly. Arrowsight started with meat producers and is now expanding into other areas.

Adam Aronson is the company's founder and CEO and he joins us now from New York. Good morning.

Adam Aronson: Good morning Jeremy.

Hobson: Well get specific -- tell me about what you've done with meat producers.

Aronson: One of the large companies that we work with is JBS; it's the largest beef company in the world. They have some very important sanitation protocols that need to be followed. They installed our camera systems in their eight facilities, looking at hundreds of workers following this process. And for protocol compliance that they thought was at nearly 100 percent, it actually wasn't at those levels when we first put the cameras in and started to do the observation.

But within just a few short weeks, they were able to get their compliance rates up over 99.5 percent. They sustained those rates for over a year; and in 2011, they reduced their E. coli rates by over 60 percent compared to the prior year.

Hobson: Now you've expanded into hospitals as well?

Aronson: I never intended on getting into the health care industry, but I had some circumstances in my family -- both my mother and my sister got hospital-acquired infections about seven years ago. And it really motivated me to bring the same services that we offer in the food industry into health care.

And so we worked with a group here in New York; they've taken our services; implemented them into one of their intensive-care units. And were able to take hand washing rates that they thought on their own were at about 60 percent -- turns out that they were down below 10 percent.

But within four weeks of giving feedback straight to the units using electronic scoreboards right on the ICU walls, they were able to get their hand-hygiene rates up over 85 percent. And that in turn had a significant impact on reducing MRSA transmission rates, which can cause hospital-acquired infections.

Hobson: All this by just putting in video-monitoring services -- basically, spying on the employees?

Aronson: Yeah, you know, it's an interesting misconception; a lot of people say it's "Big Brother." But what happens is that workers for the most part never get any feedback that's objective. In ten years of doing this, we've never been removed from any plants; there's never been any employee unrest. If anything, we constantly see units and hospitals, or plants that are not using our services, they're requesting corporate management to get these services in.

Hobson: Adam Aronson is the CEO of Arrowsight. Thanks so much for your time.

Aronson: Hey, thanks for having me me on today Jeremy.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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