Jul 102014
Image of a tracking session from StaySafe Business

Image of a tracking session from StaySafe Business

A customer, trying to implement a lone worker protection system to help keep his lone workers safe, is getting some serious push back over the issue of tracking.

Their team of technicians regularly work by themselves for part of each day, and consequently face increased levels of risk with no-one nearby to come to their help in case of accident or emergency.

The employer wants to introduce a smartphone based lone worker tracking system that sends automatic alerts in case of panic, non-movement or upon expiry of a user established tracking session.  The system uses the GPS and GSM networks to monitor & map the location of each worker in real time.  If the employee gets into trouble, because they know exactly where they are, the employer can then respond and send help quickly.  Rapid response can at times mean the difference between life and death.

The tracking sessions can only be set up by the employee, not the employer, and are specifically designed that way to circumvent any question of snooping by the employer.

The employer’s only consideration is to provide a safe workplace and help reduce risks that lone workers face every day, and is introducing the system at their own expense.  They have no intention of checking up to see if people are doing the right thing, though the system does provide the capability of doing so if it were to be used in that way.  Apart from the basic intention to keep people safe, the employer also has a duty of care to fulfil – to provide a safe workplace, safe systems of work, and an effective means of communication with each worker. The penalties of not doing so can be stiff.

However, the team is now up in arms about being tracked, as they say it is a pretext for the employer to spy on them and demonstrates a lack of trust, so they’re pushing back on adopting the system.

So why would you turn down the opportunity to benefit from a system that helps keep you safe?   Lone worker safety devices, supported by all-important back-end systems, policies and procedures reduce risks, and also offer peace of mind, not just for the worker, but also for their families and colleagues as well.  It’s unfortunate but things happen out there.  People slip and fall, have heart attacks, fits, get assaulted.  Most people would be grateful you would think that their company’s looking out for them – actively taking steps to make sure they’re safe.  Lots of people, especially those who’ve had a bad experience in the past, actually want their employer to know where they are, and to know they will send help swiftly if they got into trouble.  Wouldn’t you?

There are some shocking stories about lone worker accidents, assaults, holdups.  They happen all the time.  But most of us are ok most of the time aren’t we?  So I’m curious to know, how do you feel about being tracked?  What is your experience?  What are the pros & cons in your view?  Do you know of cases where tracking has helped someone, or been abused?  Is it a condition of employment?  How would you deal with the team of technicians?

Jul 042014

Kawasaki QuadbikeIn October 2004, a gamekeeper working on a Borders country estate suffered serious injuries to his pelvis when his quad bike overturned on a slope.  Although there was a mobile phone signal in the area, he had not been issued with a phone or other means of communication, and tried to reach a nearby farmhouse for help.  A search wasn’t initiated until he was first missed 52 hours after the accident.  Searchers found his body 200 yards from the scene of the accident in another field. The injured gamekeeper did not die immediately and if he had a means of communication then he would have had an opportunity to summon help.

His employers were found guilty of a health and safety breach, having failed to provide a means of communication for the gamekeeper, or carry out a risk assessment for a Lone Worker to report in at the end of a shift.

Clearly this is an extreme and very sad case.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like for that poor man to lie in that field for over two days with no-one coming to help.

An ever increasing number of people work alone.  However not all lone workers work in remote places as you might expect, like farmers, forestry workers, researchers.  Some will be close by in your very communities, including many working in the middle of crowded towns and cities.  You will probably see many of these people every day.  Homeworkers, taxi drivers, estate agents, the people who come to fix your phone, read your meter or deliver a parcel are lone workers too.  A photographer covering a bushfire by himself is at risk.  So too is a solo surveyor, track inspector or supervisor operating independently.  What about all those welfare workers who work with youth, the elderly, the disabled?  Who’s looking out for your international business travellers when they land in Bangkok in the middle of a coup?  With no one they can rely on close at hand to help them in case of emergency – accident, medical emergency, assault, vehicle breakdown etc. – lone workers face increased levels of risks just through working by themselves.   Accidents do happen.  One housing association customer said to me yesterday “I’ve certainly had my fair share of hairy moments”.

Employers should frequently be asking themselves:

  • Do I really know where my Lone Workers are?
  • Do I know that they’re ok?
  • Does my worker have an effective means of communication in case something happens?
  • Have I carried out a proper assessment of the risks to the health & safety of my employees recently?

Different risks call for different mitigations.  A complete ban on lone working is appropriate for some employers, at certain times and in certain places.  Of course this may not be economically viable for some organizations, and may be an overreaction to the real risks involved.  Personal security systems, radios, GPS vehicle trackers, distress beacons and satellite devices all have their place, especially where risk of physical assault is high or network coverage is poor or non-existent.   Advancements in cell/mobile phone technologies, improving network coverage & GPS now enable lone workers to benefit from easy to operate, reliable and cost-effective smartphone solutions, automatically triggering alerts so help can find them quickly when they’re in trouble.  Many of us won’t leave home without our phone now, so it makes sense to have personal protection built into the device you carry around all the time.

If the gamekeeper on the Borders estate had had any kind of protection at all, or someone to look out for him in case of emergency, he would not have died alone that day in 2004.

How do you know where your lone workers are, and that they’re ok?