Reduce the risk
13 May 2019
Craig Swallow explores how emerging lone worker technology allows us to revisit long-standing areas of risk with less trepidation.
THE MAIN role of the lone worker supplier, at the sharp end of the process, is to ensure a device-user needing assistance is supported in the best, quickest way possible, and appropriately given the context of a situation. Away from incident specifics, our role is like any other supplier relationship - building trust, working with customers to understand the challenges they face, and helping them to reduce or remove their business risks. But is the advancement in technology and systems demanding that our role is changing to be more consultative?
Let’s take a logical starting point - the risks our front-line, lone workers face. Risks associated with a specific process or working pattern, are often linked to that process in a linear sense. For mobile workers this isn’t always the case, other individuals and / or the environment don’t throw risks at us in the same way, hence why a lone worker should always be engaged in a process (often subconsciously) of dynamic risk assessment.
Over the course of recent history, a lot of good health and safety practitioners have helped the process of empowering millions of UK staff, to assess and reduce risk through good assessment, policy and support – including the use of lone worker technology where appropriate.
But with any personal safety technology, gaps will always exist, and these need to be identified and acknowledged (and mitigated or accepted where appropriate). As a lone worker professional for over fifteen years, I have seen that certain risks have often continued to be ever-present for those deploying personal safety devices.
Risk reduction is important where possible – and whilst we’d all love to be able to implement a strategy to totally remove all risk to staff, whilst some risks can be significantly reduced through appropriate measures such as regular training, and good working practices - some risks cannot be removed entirely.
Specifically, considering some that we see quite often as a lone worker solution supplier:
The challenge of locating personnel indoors, in a large structure, multi-storey or multi building facility. Traditional satellite location technologies like GPS and GNSS require ‘line of sight’ unblocked by topography or a building structure. In the event a worker suffers incapacitation or injury, it can be extremely difficult to locate them in a timely manner.
A mobile worker or team of workers, potentially community based, is unaware of a nearby event that alters the local risk profile and that could impact upon their personal safety, from the routine to the extremely serious, but could require communication to reduce the risk:
- A travel outage affecting a worker’s ability to get home
- A maintenance team not being made aware of hazardous materials in the building
- An ongoing high-threat incident in or around a worker’s current location
What should we do when we have an incident? Whilst it is common to see a big spike in activity in the immediate aftermath of an event, it’s still important to give a specifier enough time to consider:
Is this the right solution for my colleagues in terms of functionality?
Have I engaged with potential users to get their thoughts and buy-in?
Does it work within our buying and procurement frameworks?
Are we operating a ‘plan, do, check, act’ approach to reviewing lone worker risks?
Does the solution offer enough credible data to allow accurate reporting on usage, return on investment, and is it accessible and easily shared?
When an organisation is faced with a safety incident that isn’t solved in that initial period of high activity, media scrutiny and negative press - whilst it’s important not to lose impetus post-event – no one wants hindsight to suggest there was a knee-jerk reaction that didn’t solve the issue.
A new breed:
Over time, and particularly as technology is continuing to develop, new devices are starting to narrow (and in some cases, close) some of the long-standing risk areas that were problematic to challenge.
Taking indoor location for example, device technology has now progressed to have sight of Bluetooth Beacons. The beacons are low energy devices that broadcast their identifier across a short distance range.
Where a network of beacons is deployed – for example, at entrances and exits to buildings, outside lifts on different floor-levels, or at intervening points around a perimeter - any worker moving between them with a suitably enabled personal safety device or application, has sight of the identifier.
Therefore, if a device goes into ‘Red Alert’, an Alarm Receiving Centre Operator verifying the incident, can access the location of the beacon(s) closest to the alarm and pass that information to first responders on the scene, where appropriate.
Furthermore, with regards to on-device messages, new generation devices can also facilitate ‘Risk Messaging’ delivered directly to a worker’s device, triggered either manually by a manager’s interface with an online portal, or automatically through the device moving through a defined Geofence (a virtual geographic boundary defined by geolocation technology). This allows for a richer user experience, vastly improved dynamic risk assessment, and great potential for customising a solution to add value for the deploying organisation - thus improving employee relations and reducing business risk.
Being able to deliver tailored information about a relevant risk, pertinent to a worker or their current location, delivered automatically and on-device, can dramatically improve a worker’s safety. Being able to personalise a worker’s interaction with the device, also helps give the user a much more engaging experience, promotes regular usage, and gives tangible return on investment.
Price vs investment:
As with any investment, there should be a clear set of objectives behind implementation, and metrics to establish a return (supported in turn by lone worker portals that are developing in breadth of reporting). Clearly, this level of device functionality is not for everyone – and there are many deploying a lone worker solution that principally want to guarantee a device form-factor that works for their team, and a reliable 24/7 alarm receiving service. Whilst that will always be a significant percentage of the market, many specifiers are increasingly aware that there are often a small number or niche set of workers within their remit, that do fall into a potential risk-gap area when equipped with a less customized solution.
Procurement personnel should also factor in that buying a BS8484 approved solution is not a homogenized purchase. Solution component blocks – e.g. Device, ARC, Support etc – may be the same, but they will differ from one supplier to another, examining individual components as well as the sum of their parts is necessary if you want to make a fully informed choice.
Inevitably, as lone worker devices and supporting portals gain more functionality, so too the scope increases for solution personalisation at a device user level. Giving workers potentially a level of input into the user interface of their device, the format, type and frequency of notification they receive, and the potential for sharing risk-pertinent information beyond traditional channels.
Working with potential customers prior to a final commercial agreement being framed also requires greater depth. Understanding their organisational pains, the key areas of risks that need addressing, and reducing an employer’s exposure to financial risk.
Craig Swallow is managing director at SoloProtect UK. For more information, visit www.soloprotect.com