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BSIA Briefing

by Brian Sims

In this month’s BSIA Briefing, Craig Swallow discusses some of the safety challenges faced by those employing a mobile or lone workforce, addresses how a deploying organisation can use the latest technology to ensure a team is better educated about risk and approaches the sometimes tricky subject of assessing return on investment.

Lone working has long been accepted as a necessity within our working culture. Certainly, most employers and employees acknowledge lone working as a viable option where the risks are properly assessed and reduced and where members of staff are appropriately supported.

With certain job roles (eg security officers, district nurses and housing officers, etc), lone working is more commonplace and therefore considered the norm . These ‘traditional’ lone worker roles can sometimes be perceived differently to the proactive creation of lone working. They’re often not addressed by an employer policy, perhaps in an industry where, traditionally, working is carried out in combination with one or more colleagues.

Lone working resulting from an employer needing to leverage economies of scale in some way isn’t always universally popular, but is perhaps just a requirement given the commercial landscape of the last ten years, or perhaps just part and parcel of the modern workplace as we’re all expected to be more flexible these days.

Regardless of why a particular lone working role is created, the flexibility many of us need from our employers, and often the requirement for mobility demanded by our job roles, will only serve to increase mobile and lone working across all industries. This necessitates the employers of lone workers to consider several areas.

Lone worker safety industry

Lone worker safety as an industry has now been well-defined over the course of the last 20 years. In the UK, it’s probably more advanced than anywhere else and ably supported by Health and Safety professionals, policy and risk assessments, relevant standards and legislation with an enforcing body in the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

Estimates regarding the number of UK lone workers vary. The overall figure has often ranged somewhere between the four and eight million mark. We take the view that lone workers number close to five million people in the UK. That’s around 15% of the total working population, which was stated to be around 32.6 million in February of this year (Source: Office for National Statistics, UK Labour Market).

Technology solutions that help to protect staff are well established in the UK, but are often in their first purchasing cycle in the European Union and the US. This has meant that UK employers implementing this kind of solution are often familiar with how the technology works, the response their lone workers can expect in an emergency and the supporting ancillary services that add value to their investment.

This final point – ie judging the value of an investment – is becoming increasingly important. As use reporting has improved, particularly so where a solution provider has designed systems to deliver management information at the company, team or even the device-level – the deploying customer gains a much clearer picture of a solution’s health at the implementation stage and throughout the ongoing client relationship (across all stakeholders).

Why lone worker?

Ultimately, the creation of lone working can bring a number of benefits to an organisation. It may allow an organisation to maintain a wider footprint in terms of operations, either within an existing or a new location.

Lone working may also allow an organisation’s workforce to be flexible and fleet of foot – both in terms of some service delivery, but also where a job role requires mobility or extended hours to be covered

It can also deliver clear financial benefits – the ability to deploy safe lone working, instead of having to use more than one employee for a given task, can improve efficiencies and massively reduce an organisation’s costs. 

All employees are legally owed a Duty of Care by their employer. While this isn’t something to solely affect those employing lone workers, they do need additional supporting mechanisms to reflect the fact they’re operational away from colleagues who would otherwise be able to provide help.

In terms of the supporting mechanisms themselves, those selected are likely to depend on the challenges or risks posed as a result of a specific job role. Effective policy, risk assessments, communication tools, robust operations and dedicated lone worker devices are just some of the ways in which to ensure a workforce is appropriately empowered to assess and reduce risk.

Equally, it’s not just about the perception of removing risk to staff that’s important. Increasingly, an employer’s appreciation of staff ‘well-being’ in the workplace is increasingly important. It helps to ensure a workforce is engaged and motivated, supports a positive culture generally and helps to attract and retain personnel. That’s one part of why many employers now focus on ways to ensure lone workers are not isolated, but in regular contact with colleagues.

Rationale for technology deployment

With regards to any employer introducing technology, it can inevitably be a bit of a balancing act. Employers want to know that their investment will protect the worker (and the organisation) enough to locate them in the event of an emergency, where supporting assistance (such as from the Emergency Services) needs to be requested.

Likewise, an employee will often want reassurance to confirm their lone worker protection is exactly that – and not a mechanism purely designed to facilitate tracking for their employer, or indeed a level of monitoring that’s invasive and potentially unfair on them.

Harnessing geolocation technologies (such as GPS, GNSS, WiFi and Bluetooth) in a solution, brings obvious benefits in an emergency and isn’t intrusive if placed within the control of the lone worker. Increasingly, customers and suppliers alike are becoming aware of (and beginning to understand) the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation in relation to lone worker services. That being so, they’re wanting to ensure any solution provider is compliant and that the solution’s privacy impact has been properly assessed beforehand.

Any response?

An employer should also consider the response that their chosen solution is able to elicit. BS 8484 (the British Standard for Lone Workers) has been a great addition to the industry in allowing customers to be assured that their supplier will deliver a credible lone worker solution. One that will enable a level of alarm escalation above a 999 call, where appropriate, for the lone worker incident.

It has been a great addition from the police service’s perspective, too, with many thousands of police hours saved as false alarms or lower severity alarms are managed without being passed on to them.

Like any solution, there’s a level of detail for how any supplier operates that goes beyond their accreditation. Employers should consider the level of training and support a supplier delivers, the device usage metrics and management information supplied via the solution, as well as how accessible that information is to disseminate.

It’s also important to gauge how the key elements of the supporting solution (such as the Alarm Receiving Centre or the portal employed, more of which anon) are measured on a regular basis, in addition to how the individual components perform and add value to the deploying organisation.

Minding the gap

An ongoing consideration for anyone buying a technology solution is indeed the speed at which technology moves forward. The lone worker industry had, admittedly, not changed materially in the last ten years. However, that’s starting to change.

As body-worn video and lone worker technology continues to converge, and location technologies (indoor and out) further evolve, the ability to customise services and tailor information to the device user – specifically about risk pertinent at the user level – increases massively.

Craig Swallow

Craig Swallow

This functionality opens-up a whole host of options for the employer from an operational and safety point of view. This is potentially great for solution providers because it helps to ensure that a solution becomes a useful tool for the lone worker on a day-to-day basis, but it’s also good for the employer because it helps them demonstrate the solution’s value internally.

Return on investment is now much easier to quantify for customers. Activity reporting provided by a solution provider is nothing new, but they were often lengthy paper documents that were slightly cumbersome and poor at helping to identify ongoing issues and trends beyond the monthly snapshot. The emergence of smart portals changes that, delivering clear and concise information to all the necessary stakeholders.

Not only that, they should also allow account administrators within the deploying organisation to pass on some of the responsibility on actions to support the solution such that everything doesn’t rest with one individual. Enabling some of the responsibility to be devolved to the manager, team or user level in line with the structure of the host organisation saves time and helps in implementing a solution that’s placed in the hands of the users as soon as is reasonably possible.

Craig Swallow is Chairman of the BSIA’s Lone Worker Section and Managing Director of SoloProtect

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