Having just read about another lone worker fatality, this time the kidnapping and murder of a real estate agent in Toronto, Canada, it’s worth considering how a good lone worker safety app on the agent’s phone, combined with proper training & management, could have allowed help to find him quickly and maybe even have kept him alive. It is important to recognise the role that “proper training & management” plays, and it would seem the primary failing (apart from that of the killer of course) was the management failure for which no amount of lone worker apps and devices could have compensated. However, my discussion here is about smartphone based lone worker apps, and how to go about choosing one from another. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re all the same!
Smartphones – mobiles & cell phones – are everywhere. And as a safety device, they can be a lifesaver. They can be tracked through GPS, provide two-way communication, may already be carried by workers (meaning no extra capital costs or additional devices to carry, remember and keep charged), and are well supported with a wide variety of safety specific apps. These solutions are often simple and easy to use, and are also a powerful and cost-effective tool to help an organization maintain control over its lone workers.
Depending on the risks you’ve assessed, and some evident limitations (e.g. network coverage), a smartphone based lone worker management system, supported with careful planning, policies and safe working practices offers a robust, effective and reliable tool to mitigate many, perhaps the majority of, lone working risks.
Good lone worker management is a combination of both prevention and response. Lone worker devices are not good at prevention. They don’t prevent incidents from happening – that is down to an organization’s policies and procedures, training, safe systems of work, culture and habits. What they are good at however, is response. By bringing the three key elements of person, location and situation together the system enables a person monitoring to be swiftly informed about an incident so they can verify, escalate and respond rapidly. Some solutions are web based, meaning the person monitoring is not tied to a desk but has the flexibility to respond from wherever they are using any web enabled device including another phone or tablet.
Buying a lone worker management system can be confusing. There are many suppliers, different levels of support, service and monitoring options available. So let’s assume you’ve done your risk assessments, you’ve investigated all the alternatives, and you’ve decided that a smartphone-based solution offers the most appropriate risk mitigation option for your lone workers. So what do you need to consider when choosing the right lone worker solution for your business, and what information do you need before you implement a solution or approach a supplier?
Lone worker management systems primarily mitigate risks and help keep lone workers safe of course, but they can also offer productivity and organizational benefits as well, so firstly consider what you require from your system. So consider what you want to achieve by implementing a lone worker system.
1. To meet primary duty of care obligations, stay in compliance with health & safety regulations and eliminate as far as is reasonably practicable the risks associated with lone work.
2. To reduce risks and safeguard your organisation, its reputation and reduce personal risks to its officers.
3. To increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your organization and its staff, especially revenue-generating employees, with productivity, economic and organizational benefits.
4. To promote peace of mind and boost morale with your employees, who need to be able to trust that someone is looking out for them who can and will respond if they need help.
5. To be able to send messages, alerts & warnings instantly and in bulk to your lone workers (e.g. on-campus university students in a crisis).
A good smartphone-based lone worker management system can do all this for you. Others will meet some of your requirements, but be prepared to make compromises.
To offer a starting point for you to compare different systems, here is a detailed Lone Worker smartphone evaluation guide for you to download.
The better lone worker systems will allow you to see on a map, in real time, where your lone workers actually are, not where they’re supposed to be, and be assured that they’re ok. Regular, automated contact, combined with the capacity to alert you when they’re in trouble helps you meet your duty of care. Panic, duress, non-movement and expired session events are all cause for concern and will trigger alerts so you are informed immediately and know exactly where to send help. Two-way voice communication in an emergency allows the lone worker to hear their controller, who can provide reassurance and updates on response progress. But the controller can also hear ambient sounds, important for verifying the authenticity of the alert.
The system can offer other advantages too. A complete record of each tracked session, including response, is retained and can be used later for training, audit, or even as evidence in an investigation. Regular reports show individual usage history and patterns and help management ensure the system is used and policies complied with. But one of the biggest benefits you may experience from your lone worker system is the ability to reduce, if not eliminate all the “noise” of check in/check out activity, sharing of calendars and diaries, and tedious emails, texts and phone calls that distract and impact on productivity both with the lone worker themselves and those back in the office monitoring them.
One electrical contractor I know requires their people to take screen shots of their location on their smartphone and paste them into emails, which they then send to their supervisor. And they have to do this every time they change location, often many times a day! There are better ways in this day and age!
A smartphone based lone worker management system offers organizations many advantages, but please don’t confuse the many free and cheap “tracker” apps on the market with proper lone worker management systems. Generally speaking they cannot be expected to adequately mitigate lone worker risks for organizations where safety is taken seriously.