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Protecting Lone Workers?

26 May 2011

Flexible and off site working are increasingly the norm in the FM sector, putting the issue of protecting workers troughout their working day at the forefront for employers, as Chris Potts explains

WORKER HEALTH AND SAFETY is a high priority for any employer, and the safety of lone workers is a particular concern. Many organisations have traditionally used manual methods to protect their lone workers, but a well hought-out, technology-based approach can really raise the bar in terms of enhancing their safety and security — and is generally far more cost efficient, too.

Employers' duty of care to ensure the health and safety of all their employees at work was formalised by the Health and Safety Executive in egislation that dates back several decades. Although many organisations have always taken this duty of care seriously, as a company we have noticed a recent shift in attitude among organisations we come into contact with – they are starting to take a more proactive approach to protecting lone workers, and showing much greater awareness of what is entailed.

Alex Carmichael, Technical Director at the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), estimates that more than six million people in the UK work in isolation or without direct supervision. Such lone workers often require special consideration to ensure they are not at greater risk than any other employee.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act introduced in 2007 makes it clear to employers that pleading ignorance of the risks their employees run is no longer an acceptable defence when a fatal accident takes place.

Indeed, February of this year saw the first conviction under that Act, concerning the death in 2008 of a surveyor working alone on a building site, and resulting in a fine of several hundred thousand pounds for the company oncerned.

Attitude shift

In our experience, it just takes a few trailblazers to set a new tone, and in the area of health and safety, it is often public-sector organisations, like hospitals and councils, that lead the way. But once a few organisations in given sector adopt new processes, others soon follow, as health and safety departments share best practice among themselves and ensure a general raising of standards.

We are finding the companies we speak with about lone worker protection are much more knowledgeable about their obligations these days, more proactive in their efforts, and keen to explore all the options available. They're taking the topic of risk to employees as seriously as they do any other types of risk in business, such as information security risk.

Of course, there's a balance to be struck between the level of risk and the budget available to mitigate it. It goes without saying that companies are looking to make a profit; no ompany wants to spend money unnecessarily, bt neither does it want to act in an irresponsible way that could lead to huge fines and a damaged reputation.

Traditional approaches

When it comes to lone worker protection, there are all sorts of approaches a company can take to meet guidelines and recommendations. You cannot afford to wait until John from maintenance misses his afternoon tea break before sending someone to check if something has happened to him.

Manual monitoring of lone workers is one option. Have John contact his supervisor once an hour to confirm everything's alright, hoping he remembers to do so; or arrange for someone based in the office to call or text each lone worker once an hour, hoping that doesn't distract the maintenance engineers from the task in hand. Or you could simply decide to avoid the lone working issue altogether by always sending maintenance engineers out in pairs.

But all those methods are inefficient and can end up being quite expensive. Whoever's making or receiving the hourly calls probably won't manage to get much else done; while doubling up your maintenance teams means every task costs twice as much to complete.

Another way

A technology-based approach offers more effective, less intrusive ways of protecting lone workers, that usually cost less than traditional manual approaches. Of course, technology doesn't prevent an incident or injury from occuring, but combined with proper procedures it enables swift, appropriate action to be taken in the event of an emergency affecting a lone worker.

A range of technology options exists to suit all manner of lone working conditions, budgets and organisations' existing infrastructure. A provider like ANT Telecommunications will take a consultative approach, exploring factors such as:

● Are lone workers based in a fixed location or a campus environment?

● Are they mobile and visiting homes or business premises?

● Are they working in hazardous or harsh environments or explosive atmospheres?

● Do they need a handset that can also be used as an ordinary phone?

Where lone workers are based on site, we will look at the organisation's existing communications infrastructure, and at whether lone workers are operating indoors or outdoors.

Having gained an understanding of what is required and what budget is available, we will then recommend the most appropriate solution from a range of handsets and platforms. Our handset range includes DECT and GSM devices, pagers and private mobile radio (PMR). We offer handsets that can withstand dust and water spray; survive a two-metre drop onto concrete; and be safely used in ATEX-rated areas.

Handset features include emergency buttons, that let a lone worker call for assistance by pressing just one button; and automatic tilt switches or motion sensors provide 'man down' capability, automatically raising an alarm when a lone worker is unable to do so.

GSM handsets provide GPS positioning that can be integrated with a digital map, so that when an alarm is raised, the lone worker's location can be quickly pinpointed. For indoor applications, we can install static beacons that transmit a lone worker's co-ordinates by SMS. And for organisations that need to outsource their response to lone worker alarms, we can integrate an alarm receiving centre (ARC) into the solution we propose.

Solutions that work ANT Telecom has created lone worker solutions for customers in many industry sectors, including AstraZeneca (pharmaceuticals), BAE Systems (defence and security), Shell (energy), Red Bank Community Home (secure children's home), Wienerberger (manufacturing) and Diageo (consumer goods). All these companies take employee health and safety seriously and have implemented ANT Telecom solutions to protect their lone workers. We can help you take the right approach to protecting your lone workers, too.

Who is a lone worker?

Lone workers are people who work by themselves some or all of the time, without close or direct supervision. They may work:

● Alone in a fixed location, such as a shop or a petrol station

● Separately from others, for example, at a factory or warehouse

● Outside of normal hours, doing jobs like cleaning or security

● Away from a fixed location in industries like construction, maintenance, engineering or agriculture

● In other mobile roles that involve visiting homes or businesses, such as delivery drivers, nurses, social workers, rent collectors and sales representatives

 

"We have been working successfully with ANT Telecom for over 13 years. We currently use their mobile communication systems, either DECT or paging, with integrated lone worker applications in 16 of our distilleries across Scotland."

Barry Paterson, Diageo

"ANT Telecom has been our preferred supplier for over 5 years now in the field of communications in a secure environment. They have provided us with a quality service and good response times which are crucial to the safety of our staff and young people."

Jan Baxendale, Red Bank Community Home

We work with ANT Telecom because for years they're the only company that has been able to implement and deliver lone worker solutions that have resolved our problems at a viable price."

Alex Johnston, Wienerberger


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