Mathew Colley, LONEALERT’s Sales & Marketing Manager, says it’s time to ditch outdated systems to monitor lone workers and move with the times to keep staff safe.
Times are a changing in the world of lone working. With a backdrop of budget cuts forcing companies to streamline workforces, coupled with ever-advancing technology enabling more remote working, the number of lone workers is on the rise. And now, with an estimated 8 million people in the UK alone considered a lone worker, it’s time all companies face up to their responsibilities to their workforce and the systems they have in place to keep them protected.
Despite awareness of the risks facing lone workers at an all-time high, some companies are still failing to protect them effectively by making use of outdated and unreliable systems - whether it be using whiteboards, sticky notes, or phone calls and emails.
Take the sticky note as an example.
A social worker receives a phone call in the office requesting an unscheduled home visit to a vulnerable client on the other side of town. There’s nobody else in the office to tell so she leaves a sticky note on the desk of her line manager giving brief details of the address she is visiting. In her haste, she forgets to include the time of her departure or how long she expects to be there.
Hours pass and a colleague stumbles on the scribbled note but is unsure what to do with the information. Should she tell the boss? Should she give her colleague a call to check she’s ok?
At that moment, her phone rings and she becomes distracted with her own work, failing to give it another thought for the rest of the day.
For the purposes of this example, let’s say the home visit goes without a hitch but has dragged on longer than expected, meaning the social worker heads straight home instead of returning to the office. But still, with a flow of workers in and out of the office and the line manager out for the day at a meeting, nobody has called to check on her whereabouts or safety and it is not until she returns to work the next morning that anyone realises they hadn’t seen her all of the previous afternoon.
Now ask yourself this: If the worst had happened and the home visit turned hostile or aggressive, how would the social worker have ever received suitable help? How long would it have been before anybody became aware that something was wrong? If the only worker aware of her location had now clocked off from her shift, would anyone even know where she was, never mind if she was in distress? With all this in mind, could her employer realistically say that they had done everything they could to keep her safe in her working role?
Now let’s look at whiteboards, which are also regularly still used to monitor the comings and goings of workers, especially in the care and community sector.
This system allows colleagues to easily see where each member of the workforce is, what appointments they have, and who is available at any time during the week.
It is a simple and effective way of tracking movements for the purposes of task allocation among a team of workers.
But it has a number of flaws as a lone worker protection system.
Firstly, the process is reliant on the team keeping their status up-to-date, and with ever-increasing workloads and demands to meet, this is a task that can often fall to the bottom of the priority list.
Secondly, information can be erased in an instant. If a worker accidentally erases a colleague’s details when updating the board, there would be no other record of their arrangements or location.
Furthermore, just as with the sticky note example, the fact that a worker has updated their status does not mean that anyone would notice their absence and react accordingly until they had been missing for a substantial period of time. This is especially true in workplaces that employ staff on flexible working hours or with various shift patterns that mean workers are not in regular contact with each other.
Other companies may rely on a simple system of lone workers calling, texting or emailing colleagues or line managers with details of their location.
This too is problematic as an effective lone worker protection.
What would happen, for example, if the worker is out in a remote rural location with no mobile phone signal and therefore unable to call to ‘check in’? What if they simply forget to do so having been distracted by the daily demands of their job? What if the line manager they are expected to email has been called to an urgent meeting and is no longer monitoring the inbox? What if the person tasked with manning the phone line goes home early sick and has failed to pass the responsibility on to a colleague meaning there is no way for the lone worker to contact the office whilst in distress?
If the distress call did make it through, would the person answering even know how to handle the situation and organise a suitably helpful response?
Due to the ever increasing number of lone workers in the UK, as well as a number of national headline-grabbing articles regarding lone working, more and more employers are now facing up to the vital importance of having suitable systems in place to adequately protect them.
And with a vast range of lone worker protection products, devices and solutions now available - suitable for lone workers from every industry and within every budget - there really is no excuse for companies to rely on outdated systems that are flawed and ineffective. Whether it be an ID Card device that features a panic alarm, two-way audio, ripcord and GPS disguised within an identification badge; or a Man Down device ideal for manual workers that automatically detects falls and raises the alarm; or an Anywhere device that can provide a worker’s exact location even in areas with no mobile phone signal, companies can even mix and match solutions that best suit the needs of each individual employee.
Every lone worker has the right to be properly protected by an effective lone worker system that is tailored to their needs, immediately triggers an escalation process so panic alarms and missed check ins can’t be ignored, and ensures a suitable response is given to every situation should the worst happen. For companies still relying on sticky notes and whiteboards, it is time for out with the old and in with the new. A lone worker alarm or lone worker smartphone app can not only increase the safety of the workers but it also gives them a sense of security knowing that they are easily in contact with help.