22 February 2021
Changes in working environments and collective efforts to respond to COVID-19 have necessarily altered approaches to risk management and, in turn, how organisations specify personal safety solutions for lone workers. The latest webinar run by Health and Safety Matters’ sister magazine Security Matters addressed this issue in great detail. Brian Sims reports
IN THE midst of the pandemic, is your company’s approach to safety and security now being applied more consistently across employees’ work and personal lives? Are consumer (ie end user) attitudes demanding more from personal safety technology that’s issued by employers? In parallel, how are today’s solution providers innovating in a bid to solve some of the risk challenges many traditional lone worker technologies struggle to lessen?
On Thursday 11 February at 10.30 am, Security Matters sought to answer these key questions and more in a thought-provoking webinar sponsored by specialist lone worker safety solutions provider SoloProtect UK, whose president Steve Hough expertly served as presenter on the day. Hough focused on several topic areas, among them awareness of risk and how this has changed, what the 2021 landscape looks like, the effects on employers and solution end users and how all of this is actively shaping safety technology.
“In terms of awareness of risk,” began Hough, “there’s more positivity now in as much as there’s a lot of good work being carried out by Health and Safety professionals as they continue to add value for their employers. We’ve seen that first-hand as the demand for our own products and services has grown during the pandemic. Employers have become concerned about the new risks they were and are beginning to see.”
Many of SoloProtect UK’s customers engaged in massive risk assessment processes last year. They’re now acclimatising to different working environments driven by COVID-19. “The Health and Safety Executive does state that Health and Safety risk should be re-assessed every time there are new machines, substances or procedures in the workplace that can lead to new hazards,” asserted Hough. “An employer should conduct a risk assessment whenever a given role is confronted by new hazards.”
The pandemic has altered the working environment for many. Home working is now ubiquitous. Some companies have moved towards a skeleton staff on site simply to keep the wheels of commerce turning. That can lead to more lone workers. “We’re finding some customers have increased nightshift working or out of hours operations,” stated Hough. “There’s also a keen focus on job planning. In short, dissecting roles and activities to determine what tasks are feasible for transaction at home and those that are not.”
Interestingly, Hough asserted: “There are more people working on a lone basis now and, from a personal perspective, I think that trend is set to remain beyond COVID-enforced lockdowns. Going forward, many of our team members will continue to work from home as they’ve found it to be really successful.”
SoloProtect UK conducted its own risk assessments very early on in the pandemic and the expected outcomes emerged. The need to equip people to work from home, for example, as well as social connection and how the business ensures colleagues are comfortable in their working environments.
“We also sought to ascertain which team members live alone as well,” stated Hough. “That’s not something we would have looked into under normal circumstances. Would certain members of staff be spending a greater proportion of their day alone? Employers have a legal and moral obligation to address such issues, particularly so in light of mental health and well-being.”
Where once there was no perceived risk in a given working environment, that may no longer be the case due to the Coronavirus. The risk pattern has shifted. Numerous lockdowns and social distancing have realised some pretty stark figures on increases in crime, as reported by the British Retail Consortium.
The BBC has cited 400 incidents of violence or abuse occurring daily in the retail space. Triggers include staff having to challenge customers for ID where age-restricted items are concerned. Violent episodes involving weapons are on the rise. Assaults on shop workers have doubled in the last 12 months, in fact, amplified by appalling behaviour including those workers being coughed at or spat on.
“Management are at the sharp end of this,” opined Hough. “They have the added pressure of needing to remain abreast of the status of all staff members. It’s an increasing amount of work and an administrative burden for middle management groups stacked on top of an already full agenda wherein they’re just trying to tread water and keep trading.”
Hough continued: “The tricky part is knowing that staff are complying with and adhering to the risk frameworks put in place by the organisation. Winning their hearts and minds is important. There needs to be a focus on employees knowing why there’s a particular safety solution in place for them. The benefits that the solution realises for them are absolutely vital here.”
Manual and tactical solutions can be in place, including the self-assessment of risk. Assessing the actual working environment is important. Regular Teams calls, virtual team meetings and a constant focus on one-to-one dialogue is crucial. As part of the mix, technology-based solutions are now increasingly sought after to realise, for example, staff status monitoring and the ability for employees to summon help either discreetly or otherwise.
COVID-19 has made most of our working lives a more personal and less visible affair. The focus is now all about physical and mental well-being of staff and their connection to other members of the team. Productivity has improved for many, equally so their work-life balance, but the former can come with the risk of burnout.
In January, the Institute of Employment Studies evidenced that, pre-lockdown, less than 3% of UK employees worked exclusively from home. That figure rose to 30% during last March and April. It has since dropped, but still stands at around the 20% mark.
Office for National Statistics data is also telling. It seems that 40% of workers are more productive when working from home, while 22% of people now work outside of their normal office hours. 54% suggest they’re happier working from home. Interestingly, 30% of those people questioned said they now work more hours than they would do under normal circumstances.
“Knowing the working status of employees is important,” said Hough, “as is knowing your staff well, particularly so when it comes to vulnerable individuals who may have health conditions. Businesses are now redacting employment policies. We started off with a COVID-specific policy, but that has now migrated into an overall policy focused on how we work. Essentially, managers need a quick and easy overview of who’s where, what they’re doing and how they’re coping. The Duty of Care owed to staff by their employer hasn’t changed in this current environment.”
Many of those employers are facing budget pressures. They also need to mitigate new risks. Increasingly, there’s a need for digital solutions. On that basis, lone worker safety solution providers need to deliver packages that speak to different types of needs and different sizes of companies operating in diverse industry sectors. “Customers want solutions that save time,” added Hough. “Personal safety is a prerequisite. Individuals are demanding more in the way of smarter services in tandem with smarter technology.”
Delivering risk information prior to a safety or security-related episode is all about prevention rather than cure. Using geofencing to advise on risk in a particular area is a prime example. Checking-in facilities for staff are also important. Touchpoints, if you will, for knowing that staff are safe and well.
Impact on end users
More and more consumers are looking for easy-to-use and effective technology to enable their working lives. That statement is equally true of management groups in terms of how they gain, collate and use data on their workforce.
Hough observed: “When it comes to insight on risk and the actions that could be taken to mitigate that risk, technology must be reliable and fast. End users are now demanding solution choices and rightly so. Indeed, that’s an expectation among today’s tech-savvy millennials in particular.”
In essence, service providers need to think about the value of their solutions for the employer. Those solutions also have to engage and please the end user. “If not, there’s a potential barrier to adoption,” explained Hough. “A common interface across products can make it easier for adoption and training purposes. Personal safety solutions must become an intrinsic element of the day job. Integration that results in those solutions being part of the company’s conversational DNA is the end goal.”
Further, Hough outlined: “What we see as an overriding factor is that people are now requesting more and more information. There’s always a balance to be struck here between security versus convenience. The General Data Protection Regulation is a good case in point. What you don’t want is a technology-based solution that will open up the business to risk.”
Given that increased automation in solutions saves time and allows companies to focus on the key points, what do they now need to look for in a personal safety solution?
“Today’s solutions need to bridge the social distance,” concluded Hough. “Fast implementation is also essential. Employers’ responsibilities are not deferred in any way because there’s a global pandemic. They should shop around for their solution. Evaluate what’s new in the market. Pleasingly, innovation and adaptation have been two of the positives to emerge from this pandemic.”
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI is editor of Security Matters For more information, visit www.securitymattersmagazine.com
For more information on SoloProtect visit www.soloprotect.com/uk