Aug 032014

Apple_iPhone1Some years ago a friend was trying to move a pool table by himself because the roof above had started to leak during a rainstorm.  The table collapsed suddenly, pinning him underneath.  Those things are heavy!  Fortunately he’d placed his mobile phone on top before trying to move the table, and it luckily fell within reach so he was able to call for help.  This wasn’t a work situation, and he didn’t sustain serious injuries, but having the phone right there enabled a swift response that reduced the consequences that delay might otherwise have caused.

The mobile phone you carry with you every day is part of a communication network that can potentially save a life, including yours.

Many people work alone with no one they can rely on nearby to come to their assistance in case of accident or emergency.  They could be working alone on a worksite, or even on the same site but out of the sight and hearing of their workmates.  They could be in a remote location, working from home or travelling in the course of work.  Even today many employers have no visibility of where their lone workers actually are, assuming they’re okay without really knowing for sure.

There are a variety of portable alarm systems available for lone workers with varying degrees of sophistication and capability, the most suitable depending on the particular circumstances and risks.  It goes without saying that any system must ensure that lone workers are able to raise an alert and be accurately located so that help can quickly be sent.

The use of mobile, or cell phones, is widespread nowadays.  As a safety device, they benefit from being able to be tracked through GPS, provide two-way communication, are generally already carried by workers (meaning no extra capital costs or additional devices to carry and keep charged), are supported by a variety of safety specific apps, and can be very cost-effective.

Especially when combined with the right app & backend system and support, perhaps even linked to an ARC monitoring & response service, a regular smartphone can reduce risks for lone workers, automatically triggering alerts under a variety of circumstances (panic, session expiry, duress, man down etc.) so that the person(s) monitoring knows that a worker is in trouble and exactly where they are so they can respond without delay.

However mobile phones cannot be relied upon as an effective means of communication in areas with poor network coverage of course.  Geographical or man-made features may impede their use or accuracy.  Battery life may be an issue.  They may not be appropriate where there is a risk of sudden attack or assault for example.

Systems can’t prevent accidents or assault and will never be a substitute for good planning or the implementation of safe working practices.  However, when there is an emergency the phone a lone worker is probably already carrying with them, capable of summoning help and minimising delay, may be a lifesaver.

May I ask:

  • Have you had any experience yourself in implementing mobile/cell phone systems for lone worker protection?
  • Do you know any cases where such a system has triggered an alert for a genuine emergency?
 Posted by at 6:36 pm

  4 Responses to “Are Mobile Phones Effective For Keeping Lone Workers Safe? What’s Your Experience?”

  1. Bob,
    An interesting and timely article. Not least because a recent report stated that 70 per cent of emergency calls originate from mobile phones.
    This is an obvious benefit of mobile technology but many callers are unable to give a sufficiently precise location and information to enable the best response.
    In one sense the subject of your article was lucky – he was in his own home and so able to say exactly where he was and what was wrong. But how many of us, when we get into trouble, re in a position to say that and communicate it?

    There are a number of apps which allow smartphones to transmit location which can form a basis for monitoring vulnerable people. However for emergencies such arrangements raise four questions: 1) is it secure?; 2) will there be sufficient information?; 3) will the person you are calling be available?; and 4) if so can they do anything useful about it?

    Best wishes and can I say how great it is to see this subject given a good airing in Australia? Incidents requiring a response may not happen every day but, from my own experience, awareness and using the right services based on the right technology has saved lives, prevented further injury and put people who deserve it behind bars.

    Patrick Dealtry

  2. Hi Patrick,

    Really appreciate your comments.
    Can you cite cases from your extensive knowledge and experience where lone worker apps have saved lives, or reduced the time to respond & hence consequences?
    Best wishes,

    • Bob,

      Your article focusses on the extreme situation of an accident and states the benefits of a smartphone based on it’s ability to provide location. Emergencies are thankfully very few and far between; and as part of any risk assessment an employer will inevitably consider the probability of an incident occurrence before deciding on the best method for controlling the risk. Location is therefore only important to them for two reasons:

      1 — to identify the location of an end user in the (unlikely) event of an emergency; or
      2 — to identify the location of an end user in order to audit their movement

      The employer needs an app in order to gain access to the smartphone location; or they need written permission from the end user to access their personal data; or both!

      Patrick has raised some valid points. Smartphone apps are being rushed to market; but before employers purchase, they need to consider a number of issues and including privacy and resilience. Purchasing a tracking app for health & safety purposes could be viewed as an invasion of privacy; and purchasing an app with poor resilience will expose the employer to further liabilities.

      Not all employees carry smartphones; therefore how do employers mitigate risks in a consistent way for non-smartphone users? How do they ensure that each employee is receiving the same level of care regardless of the device they carry? Is it reasonable for the employer to purchase and re-equip every staff with a smartphone? Do they all need an app that tracks their movements?

      For non-smartphone users, location can also be established using very simple methods and crucially posted before carrying out any risky activities – eg the end user can leave a voice-mail message; send a text message; or an eMail; or provide information via a calendar entry. Therefore an end user is in control of the information provided should an event unfold.

      regards Tom

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