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Article Teaser: With over 397,000 threats of violence and 288,000 physical assaults on British workers each year, loneworker health and safety is a key issue for small businesses, but one that is often overlooked at employer’s peril. The Health and Safety Executive place great emphasis on safe systems of working for loneworkers and there have been a number of prosecutions where systems were inadequate or simply non existent.

Keep reading below...

Loneworker Monitoring - Is There Anybody There?

Copyright (c) 2008-2017

With over 397,000 threats of violence and 288,000 physical assaults on British workers each year, loneworker health and safety is a key issue for small businesses, but one that is often overlooked at employer’s peril. The Health and Safety Executive place great emphasis on safe systems of working for loneworkers and there have been a number of prosecutions where systems were inadequate or simply non existent.

There is a plethora of technology to help monitor loneworkers but to choose the right one requires an understanding of the basic issues.

Issues and Options

When deciding on a loneworker monitoring service there are a number of issues to consider and a range of options to address those issues. Firstly any monitoring system needs to be part of an integrated health and safety plan, it is not a solution. There are two basic issues that monitoring systems aim to address:

1. Is the loneworker OK?
2. Where is the loneworker?

Manual Solutions

In a manual system the way to deal with those two issues is usually for a ‘buddy’ to periodically contact the loneworker to ask if they are OK. Some loneworker jobs (e.g. social workers visiting patients in their own homes) carry a risk of the loneworker being subject to duress (e.g. being held against their will). In these circumstances it is normal for a secret word or phrase to be established between the loneworker and the buddy that can be used by the loneworker to covertly inform the buddy that they are under duress. Pre-planned procedures are then set in action.

Where contact can’t be made with the loneworker it is important to know where they are likely to be so that a search can be initiated. This is usually managed by the loneworker leaving a list of appointments, updating it if required by phoning in to the buddy. In an ideal situation, as the loneworker goes from one appointment to another she will update her latest location so as to narrow down the field of search further.

This manual system in principal provides a good risk management solution to the majority of loneworker health and safety issues.

The problem with this manual solution however is that it is time consuming and prone to failure as busy employees (loneworkers and buddies) forget to make those important phone calls.

Technology solutions

Technology has stepped in to automate parts of this process.

Well being

Most systems ‘monitor’ wellbeing by providing the loneworker with some form of alert button which they can press if they have a problem. This is usually provided in a separate item of equipment carried by the loneworker. These systems were principally designed for use in hospital settings and the like where there is a serious risk of attack or threatening behaviour and where security staff are close at hand and can be summoned very quickly. In these circumstances the system provides a good solution.

The use of these systems for true loneworker monitoring is however questionable. The system requires the user to indicate that there is a problem. If the user is able to press an alert button to raise an alarm then they are equally able to press a speed dial on a mobile phone, through to a buddy or even the emergency services. The additional complications of the loneworker having to carry a separate item of equipment, make sure it is charged and working OK make these types of system unsuitable for the majority of loneworkers.

In order to overcome the issue of a loneworker being unable to summon help in this way (e.g. because of a heart attack), some dedicated systems monitor movement or orientation (is the loneworker lying down) to infer that a problem exists. These systems do not always detect problems (e.g. a heart attack whilst strapped into a car seat) and by their nature are prone to false alarms. In addition protection is lost if the equipment is out of reach of the mobile phone network or an aggressor has broken or switched off the device.

Active monitoring systems emulate the manual buddy system but automate it so as to free up employee time and more importantly eliminates the risk of forgotten calls. Such systems need to have a truly covert means by which the user can indicate a duress situation and should alert buddies if the mobile is switched off or outside of network range.

Location

There are two common technology solutions to the question of the loneworker’s location. The most accurate solution is the use of GPS (Global Positioning System). The second option is the use of Location Based Services (LBS) provided by the main mobile phone companies. Whilst GPS is now available on some phones there is limited ability for a third party to be able to receive location data without the intervention of the loneworker.

Most GPS based systems therefore use a dedicated item of equipment and use the GSM (mobile phone network) to transmit location.

Systems which utilise the loneworker’s standard mobile phone make use of the LBS system.

The accuracy of GPS is generally better than LBS but it tends to fail inside large buildings or even in streets where there are a lot of high buildings. LBS is quite accurate in densely populated areas and works well even inside most offices and houses. Where the density of mobile phone masts is low however (e.g. in rural areas) the accuracy of LBS can be very poor. In general therefore LBS is a better solution than GPS but individual circumstances (e.g. utility workers in rural areas) may dictate GPS as a better solution. Once GPS enabled phones become more ubiquitous and the ability to remotely interrogate them becomes standard then this would be the ideal solution since GPS and LBS can be enabled on the same device therefore benefiting from the best of both solutions.

In the meantime the overriding question regarding the use of either system is the advantage over the alternatives. Either system will only tell you where the device is, not whether the loneworker is with the device. They also rely on the device being connected to the mobile network and not switched off. To ensure the efficacy of a totally integrated loneworker system, a backup system for when location can’t be established needs to be put in place. A procedure whereby the loneworker’s location can be inferred by appointments diary, preferable updated at regular intervals is the obvious answer.

If such a backup system is in place then the advantages of either GPS or LBS are minimal in most scenarios. In an ideal system the ability to automate this appointment log is the preferred solution.


About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
With over 397,000 threats of violence and 288,000 physical assaults on British workers each year, loneworker health and safety is a key issue for small businesses, but one that is often overlooked at employer's peril. The Health and Safety Executive place great emphasis on safe systems of working for loneworkers and there have been a number of prosecutions where systems were inadequate or simply non existent. SafetyInNumbersUK provide a simple, inexpensive monitoring system which requires no special equipment, just a mobile phone, and monitors employee wellbeing, raising an automatic alert by SMS or email if there is a problem. It is particularly suitable for loneworkers who maybe at risk of duress. Visit http://www.SafetyInNumbersUK.com for details and advice sheets. In an independent assessment the Suzy Lamplugh Trust stated "Once activated, the system is very simple to operate. The fact that the user is required to be reactive rather than proactive is a major benefit of this system" Their conclusion was: "The Safety In Numbers system provide[s] a useful alternative to existing tracing systems. It is reliable, simple to use and can be cost effective." For more information on the Suzy Lamplugh Trust visit http://www.suzylamplugh.org

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Internal ID: #6322
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