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Lone working: the monitoring options

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There are several ways of responding to and monitoring the emergency alerts sent by lone worker personal alarms, including some cost-saving options.


If you have employees that work alone, you have a duty of care to ensure risks are mitigated to an acceptable level.

With technology advancements lone worker protection has come a long way over the past decade, with solutions now available in a range of shapes and sizes together with different monitoring options.

There is so much more to a lone worker solution than just a panic alarm.

There is so much more to a lone worker solution than just a panic alarm. Photograph: iStock

Firstly, let’s look at functionality. GPS (Global Positioning System) location information should come as standard for all types of user activity and two-way audio as standard for SOS alarms.

To mitigate risks you should identify the functionality you need to have in place. This might include:

  • SOS alarm to summon immediate assistance; for use in any type of emergency
  • Welfare check/check in – a timed period where personal safety must be confirmed with an alarm monitoring centre, automatically linked colleagues, an online portal that automatically alerts managers etc, by manually ‘checking in’ using the device at a pre-programmed or pre-set time; for use in higher risk tasks, such as home visits
  • Fall detection alarm activation when an accelerometer or sensor in the device detects a sudden and rapid movement and/or sudden impact indicating the user has fallen; for use when working at height, working with heavy equipment and for employees with medical conditions
  • Pre-alert – messaging capability; for providing additional detail to alarm monitoring centres or colleagues, such as a message about the planned location and task, who the user is meeting, possible safety risks etc
  • Tracking regular GPS locations provided; for monitoring the movements of employees, where the user’s location is automatically tracked using GPS coordinates, and sent back to an alarm monitoring centre, online monitoring portal, connected colleagues etc.

Once you know what functionality your lone worker protection needs to offer, you then have some choices to make. These can be classed as:

The type of solution to be used by the users:

  • Smartphone application
  • Smartphone application with connected device
  • Dedicated device
  • Satellite device
  • A mix of the above based on risk profiles in the business.

The type of alarm monitoring:

  • BS8484 monitoring
  • Self-monitoring to a central point (for example, control room, operations centre etc)
  • Self-monitoring to internal contacts
  • A hybrid approach.
Rebecca Pick: "There is no one size fits all when it comes to protecting people and it may be the case that different options will suit different employees."

Type of solution

Traditionally, the most popular way to protect a lone worker was by providing
a dedicated device. With advancements in technology these days are long gone.

So what are the options?

Smartphone application

This is by far the most popular solution in today’s marketplace, and the reasons why include:

  • Smartphone applications offer the widest range of functionality
  • Employees always carry a smartphone so no need to carry and charge a separate device
  • No hardware costs involved, offering the most cost-effective solution
  • Modern smartphones such as iPhone and Samsung offer unrivalled GPS location accuracy
  • Effective in areas of poor signal with ability to use 2G, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi
  • Optional Bluetooth device – even easier activation of an SOS alarm at the touch of a button; wearable and discreet; built in battery lasts 12–18 months, so no charging required.

Dedicated device

This is a self-contained solution, ideal for employees that don’t carry smartphones. A few facts on dedicated devices include:

  • Easy to activate
  • Can be fitted with roaming sim cards to enhance signal coverage
  • Can be worn on a lanyard, clipped onto a belt, or worn in a wrist or arm strap
  • Require regular charging.

Satellite device

This the best option for employees working in extremely remote areas where there may be no phone signal at all. They offer:

  • Use line of sight to satellites to communicate
  • Provide ability to communicate in phone network blackspots
  • Require regular charging.
If you have employees that work alone, you have a duty of care to ensure risks are mitigated to an acceptable level. Photograph: iStock

Solution summary

Smartphone applications offer the highest user adoption as employees always carry and remember to charge their phones. They also provide the most cost-effective solution without compromising on quality.

With the ability to use multiple networks and unbeatable GPS accuracy – combined with simple SOS activation via the optional Bluetooth trigger – this is simply the best all-round solution available.

Dedicated devices can offer other benefits, such as providing a solution where mobile phones are not permitted, and satellite devices offer a way for employees in remote locations to stay connected and summon assistance if required.

All of these solutions connect into an online management portal where managers can view user activity in real time, administer users and generate customisable reports.

Once you’ve decided on the right type or mix of solutions for your lone workers, to ensure your employees get the appropriate response they need, you then must make a decision on how these solutions will be monitored.

Alarm monitoring options

Traditionally, for lone worker monitoring there has only been one option; monitoring via a BS8484 (British Standard for Lone Worker Protection) accredited, 24/7 Alarm Receiving Centre, or ARC.

However, the way employees are protected is changing. Let’s look at the various options available today for monitoring employee protection solutions.

BS8484 Alarm Receiving Centre

Typically, companies providing employee protection solutions will provide this service via their chosen ARC. This service consists of operators handling any alarms that come through and following the user’s pre-defined escalation procedure for any incidents that occur. This might include calling the emergency services and then calling appropriate points of contact within the customer organisation.

This approach is the most expensive way to protect employees. But fortunately it’s not the only way an employee protection solution can be monitored, and is certainly not required by health and safety legislation to adequately protect your employees and fulfil your duty of care.

There are now other options available that can lead to a higher level of protection for employees, as follows.

Monitored by internal dedicated resource

If you are a local authority with a CCTV monitoring centre, security company or other organisation with a control room or risk management centre etc, you may already have the resources internally to monitor employee protection solutions.

Monitoring can take many forms, but at its most basic means there is always somebody observing a system and available to react when an alarm comes in. As long as the operator has access to view an online platform and a dedicated phoneline to receive calls, this would allow a company to centrally monitor their own lone workers. And if there’s already an established security resource within the organisation the monitoring platform can be integrated into their existing alarm handling software.

The benefits of this approach are two-fold. Firstly, as the organisation retains complete control of the employee protection solution, they could provide a more tailored response service. For example, a local authority CCTV centre would also be able to use CCTV to get eyes on the incident, while their local knowledge may help decide on the best response. Secondly, as each employee protected incurs no user licence for an ARC, the overall cost of the solution doesn’t increase with the number of users added. It also makes the CCTV centre more cost-effective by providing another service.

Internal escalation to pre-defined contacts

It may be the case that in the event of an incident with a lone worker, it would be more appropriate for the alarm to be routed through to a manager, team leader or colleague rather than being escalated to an arm’s length ARC.

So, when the user activates an SOS alarm, or fails to confirm their safety by a defined time, then the system would call and text their pre-determined phone contacts. This solution works well if colleagues work alone or at risk, but can be in close proximity to each other. It may also be appropriate if there is on-site security and the best response would be from an on-site security officer.

Hybrid monitoring option

Another option to consider when deciding how best to protect your employees is a mix of monitoring options. Protecting employees is all about identifying the risks and putting the right solutions in place to best mitigate these risks. If
you have a number of risk profiles it may be that a combination of monitoring options is best for you.

For example, high risk remote workers in rural areas may be monitored by a BS8484 ARC but employees within a shopping centre may be better protected by an on-site security officer or colleague as their immediate point of escalation.

Conclusion

So, there you have a quick-start guide to choosing the right lone worker protection for your organisation.

Based on the risks you have identified, you will know the functionality you need in a solution, the best type of solution to provide this and the most appropriate method of monitoring the solution for your organisation.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to protecting people and it may be the case that different options will suit different employees. With technology advancements the flexibility is there for you to be the architect of whatever your organisation requires.

And finally, a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Thoroughly assess the risks before implementing any solution
  • Speak to employees to involve them in the decision
  • High user adoption is key to long-term success, so ensure managers are on board to monitor and drive usage
  • Include lone worker solution usage in your lone working policy.

For more information see: pickprotection.com

hse.gov.uk/lone-working

Rebecca Pick is Founder and CEO of Pick Protection

 

 

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