by Charlie A. Webb
Staff Writer

Last year I had a brush with big brother, I opened a letter from Riverside County Traffic Court and I was shocked to see my smiling face imbedded on official county letterhead. It was a picture of me behind the wheel of my car as I passed through a red light at an intersection. This wasn’t an act of civil disobedience; in fact, people running red lights are one of my pet peeves. It was just one of those smack-your-forehead moments when I remember saying, “Damn, did I just run a red light?” Attached to the letter was a notice to pay $450.00, ouch! This little monetary slap on the hand I must say shaped the way I now approach intersections. So as a deterrent, I must concede, that the system works, as it has changed my driving behavior.

Layers of these forced policy compliance systems drive all of us in society, at play is the “law of meaningful consequences”, an always-present mindset that directs us forward. We pay our taxes – most of us anyway – because the consequences of not paying our taxes may be too high, so we comply. We pay our mortgage or rent because homelessness is the byproduct if we do not adhere to this system. Although systems like the traffic camera smell a bit like big brother to some of us, there’s no refuting the value to our society from these types of systems.

Like them or not, these red-light cameras are contributing to a safer America. In fact according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analyzed the by-product of this photo enforcement system at intersections is much lower fatality rate. In 99 large cities from the period from 2004 to 2008 a study showed that red-light safety cameras reduced fatalities by 24 percent. The IIHS study found that if cameras had been deployed in all major U.S. cities during this period a total of 815 deaths could have been prevented.

In industry, forced policy compliance systems such as lock out, tag out again are helping employees to behave safely. Every year, nearly 4 million Americans suffer a workplace injury – some of which are fatal. They’re preventable, and that’s why regulatory bodies like OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) are in place to monitor and enforce safe practices. In the four decades OSHA and other related agencies have been around, there’s been a dramatic change to workplace safety, with a reduction of occupational injuries and illnesses declining by 67 percent. Many companies have begun to use cameras and position sensors to monitor plant workers movement and to thwart accidents. A bit too Orwellian for some perhaps, but you can expect such systems to surge as the decade matures.

Forced policy compliance systems make sense because they save industry billions of dollars and of course, at the end of the day, they also help keep workers safe. Our company serves the medical device industry and we too have our challenges with employee compliance. Multiple third parties oversee medical device manufacturing and every employee that comes in contact with these devices must comply with important manufacturer and regulatory guidelines or patients’ health is at risk. Consider this, it is estimated that in the United States alone, 90,000 people die from hospital-acquired infections each year. Fifty percent of these infections are believed to be due to contact with non-sterile medical instruments. As patient advocates seek remedy, healthcare response with enhanced employee training and better sterilization technologies to squelch the expansion of this little talked about crisis.

With so much at stake, medical device manufacturers must use every system available to ensure their medical device remains efficacious and sterile to the point of use. This is why our new product development team in our innovation group felt it incumbent upon us to also engender equipment that falls into this new forced policy compliance system paradigm. Our MS-451PV medical pouch system is a medical device-packaging machine designed to concertize quality output by utilizing a forced policy compliance system, as it requires operators to periodically inspect and test pouches in order to determine if the sterile barrier is still viable and compliant. Operators are unable to continue packaging once the machine sees that the pouches are not conforming to the required seal strength. The operator cannot bypass this system, as a passcode is required.

This is an exceptional way to be assured that pouches are not being created in the clean room where their strength could cause a seal failure in the field, possibly jeopardizing an already sick patient’s safety. Again, many individuals feel very uneasy about these types of systems. The general feeling is that, we should trust our employees to do the right thing. But for all the families that lost a love one at an intersection because someone ran a red light, they can attest to the value of this expanding watchdog model.

These systems are nothing new and they can be seen in every industry. A security guard walks his beat at the shopping mall scanning his card at various point of the mall. When scanned the system records the time and locations of his movement to assure his employer that he is doing his job. Or the engineer that controls the train that just passed you by is required to push an “are-you-awake button”, every few miles to assure that he is alert.

Look for more of these forced policy compliance systems to emerge in the coming years as there value is too positive to ignore. As an armchair futurist, I see smart cars that will not allow occupants to turn on the ignition and start their vehicle when minute parts per million of alcohol is detected in the automobile cockpit. I believe we need to squelch our paranoia about such systems and perhaps reimagine what the word freedom means as even freedom has its boundaries. No one has the right to kill me by running through a stop light. And if forced compliance systems such as a traffic light are proven to work, why then do we not use them? They are no different than the radar gun pointed at my car and held by the police officer camouflaged beneath the overpass as I speed by.

I believe we should simply do the right thing and allow for systems that verify. I’ve used Ronald Reagan’s quote before, it’s one of my favorites: “Trust but verify.”