Alarms and comms

Lone worker Special: Going equipped

From simple local alarms to body-worn video, lone worker systems now offer a variety of ways to signal for help in a crisis.

Image credit: © iStock/palinchakjr

Lone worker risk generally falls into two categories: social and environmental. Social risk is that which comes from other people: verbal abuse, physical aggression, attacks of any kind. Environmental risk stems from the work settings and tasks: hazardous workspaces, customers’ home conditions, even animal attacks. To these we have to add the risk of working unsupervised.

Each sector has its own risk profile. Estate agents and home healthcare providers regularly face the social risk that comes with being alone with unknown people in a remote location. When showing a prospective client around a home or making a home visit to administer medication, there is no way to know whether the other person (or their friends and family) will be volatile or have malicious intent. Construction and municipal workers, on the other hand, face environmental risk when they work alone in hazardous conditions. If a worker falls from the top of a telephone pole or is incapacitated due to a machine malfunction, who would know?

Panic buttons and personal safety devices are specified for lone workers by more and more employers. Emergency buttons can now trigger a range of outcomes. In some cases, where the lone worker is isolated only in their immediate space but there are others in the locality, or where an alarm is likely to deter an aggressor, a loud beacon is sufficient to bring assistance.

Lone-workers-alarms-and-commsIn cases where more discretion is needed, raising an alarm can connect the lone worker to monitoring or emergency services with no external sound. In the case of aggression, there is no heightening tension necessitated by calling for help.

Technological advances have allowed manufacturers to shrink their products to the point where it means that an aggressor will not be able to see that anyone is wearing a safety device.

Inbound data

Where networked devices were once limited to these outbound alarms, which are lagging indicators of problems, employers are now more interested in preventing incidents with early detection and communication. 

On the push side, early detection of location-based risks can now be shared through smartphone apps. Messages can be sent to all workers about an identified dangerous area, a chemical spill, an aggressive person, or even a terror event.

Some safety devices offer the ability for employers to tag and geofence dangerous areas. Geofencing gives an orgnisation the ability to digitally mark an area with an identified risk so that when an employee approaches that location, they receive a notification. This can be especially useful for those working outdoors, such as road crews, as teams can be notified of areas to avoid. In the case of a large-scale event, scattered workers can be notified where to meet and how to exit a dangerous area safely.

Messages can be sent to all workers about an identified dangerous area, an aggressive person, or even a terror event 

Form factors for these devices have also diversified in recent years, from discreet options such as identification badges and key fobs, to phone apps or handheld devices with multiple tracking technologies from global positioning system and Wi-Fi to 4G, ensuring the carrier is almost never in a position where they can’t be located, however remote their location.

The challenge in introducing new technology to the workforce is gaining buy-in. Do they like it? Is it easy to use? The onus is on the employer to research the safety solution that best fits their needs; a device that overburdens the workers won’t be a welcome one.

A bulky and obvious device won’t suit a home health aide whose work is physical, or a retail or real estate employee for whom discreet solutions work best. Smartwatches are now available that incorporate personal safety features while allowing workers to monitor their daily steps.

Construction and oil and gas workers need more rugged devices, proof against bumps and shocks.

Live feed

Lone_workers-pointing-to-equipmentIn social risk crises, body-worn video (BWV) provides context to an event and relieves the wearer and their employer of having to manage conflicting accounts of an incident. Both can also be sure that the alarm receiving centre will have a clear view of what is going on and the route of escalation. While someone may sound calm over audio monitoring, BWV will show they are holding a weapon, or exhibiting aggressive body language, allowing controls to despatch needed services more quickly. 

The introduction of BWV is not without its challenges. First is the question of data security. Safety devices must be compliant with the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

An organisation’s GDPR data controller has to assure themselves that any audio or video identifying individuals cannot be viewed or heard by an unauthorised person, in the event of theft of the device, for instance. Encrypted recording and remote transfer and storage of media, then deletion on its local units can help reduce the risk.

BS 8593, the code of practice for the deployment and use of BWV, written in conjunction with the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police, covers a number of deployment scenarios and then considers the data protection perspectives of each. It outlines standards for deploying BWV that must be upheld in the UK. An employer must understand the legal use case for any BWV deployment. There is also then a need to complete and be satisfied with a data privacy impact assessment (DPIA).

A DPIA will help an employer identify whether their use of BWV can be discreet or needs to be more overt. The latter indicates that the BWV device is to be used partly as a deterrent to abuse and attacks and for evidence gathering.

Look for the product that fits your business best and if you don’t need a particular feature, don’t take it

BWV must employ a recording indicator and users must make clear that recording is taking place. This is a step away from the discreet nature of previous personal safety devices.

Outside the UK, BWV regulations and standards vary. In the US, for example, the laws on its use differ from state to state.

Best fit

Jenny-Dunne-marketing-executive-SoloProtectWhen searching for the right safety solution for your business, let context lead the way. Some situations necessitate a simple alarm or a discreet communications device, while in others, the fuller evidence provided by video would be beneficial.

The other obvious questions to consider are those to do with how you’ll achieve a high level of buy-in across your organisation and how your policy on lone working and avoiding risks is considered. Ensuring willing adoption and use by your lone workers can be a challenge without clear guidance and support from managers and the executive team. Working with a reputable supplier on these issues can pay significant dividends in the long run as risks to workers and the organisation are mitigated as a result of high use.

There are so many options in lone worker protection, look for the one that truly fits your business best and if you don’t need a particular feature, don’t take it. Is two way calling right for you? Or would you rather have smartphone style messaging on the job? Do you need an intrinsically safe device for explosive atmospheres, or would the extra pounds spent on it be wasted?

We have the ability now to look for and find bespoke safety solutions. Let your business’s and employees’ needs lead the way as you navigate the landscape of protecting and insuring the most valuable asset to your business: your employees.


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