Mitigating risks and improving lone worker safety

Holland Thomas

By Travis Holland*, Managing Director
Friday, 01 March, 2019


In a recent case in New Zealand involving the death of a lone machinery operator the company was ordered to pay $85,000 in reparations to the worker’s family as the company involved had no lone worker policy in place. Putting the right strategy in place to protect lone workers should definitely involve a review of the personal safety devices available on the market. However, advances in technology mean that organisations with lone workers have a multitude of options to enhance the personal safety of their workforce. With a number of competitive solutions available on the market what should an organisation be looking for?

Through our onsite training of at risk employees and by virtue of the experience of developing our own solution My Safety Buddy I will highlight three key aspects for any organisation looking to enhance the safety of lone or isolated workers.

How user-friendly is the solution?

How many devices will your staff have to carry? Advances in smart phone technology coupled with high levels of ownership of smart phones mean that app based personal safety solutions are more appealing than ever. Bespoke devices have largely been superseded by smartphone app based solutions on the mobile phone that the employee is likely to be already carrying and familiar with. Furthermore intrinsic features of mobile phones, such as video and sound recording can be used to offer superior personal safety solutions.

Is the administrative interface user friendly, intuitive and easy to access? Can users be easily organised into groups? Is it easy to monitor their welfare? Can new users be added quickly? It is likely monitoring the team is going to be an additional task for someone, so it needs to be simple and quick.

How much ICT integration is required? ICT implementation of any solution must also be fuss free. Feedback from clients not wanting to change their whole IT set up led to the development of the My Safety Buddy web portal. Look for a solution that requires no complex ICT integration and offers organisations an accelerated implementation time frame.

What type of alarm activation functionality do you need?

Most solutions on the market are subject to the same limitations of mobile network coverage. Consequently the effectiveness of the emergency alarms will be governed by whether the alarms are device activated, user activated, and/or server activated.

User activated alarms are manually triggered by the user utilising the device. Many ‘panic alarm’ style products are based on this level of functionality.

Device activated alarms will be triggered by the device if the user does not intervene. For example if the user does not complete a scheduled check in then the device will trigger the alarm.

Both device activated and user activated alarms are reliant on action from the user and the device functioning as intended (charged, turned on and undamaged) and having network coverage when the alarm is being activated.

Server activated alarms will be triggered by the server even if the user or the device is not able to (eg the device has been damaged/lost/stolen, the battery is flat, there is no network coverage etc).

When developing My Safety Buddy we realised that for lone workers the solution had to incorporate user activated (eg the shake to activate Duress Alarm), device activated (eg the time based Welfare Checks at regular intervals, and the Incapacitated Person (Man Down) Alarm), and server activated alarms (eg Welfare Checks) so as to avoid issues caused by either the device or the user being incapacitated.

What are the must have features for lone/isolated worker safety?

Different terminology used to describe similar features of the products on the market can be confusing when comparing solutions. So below is a quick guide to what I consider the must have features for lone/isolated workers;

Verification — there will be false alarms. It is important that emergency contacts are able to verify the legitimacy of the alarm whenever possible prior to deploying resources to respond to the alarm. Smartphones are capable of recording and streaming live video and audio from the user to emergency contacts in real time to provide alarm verification.

Welfare Checks — the safety of lone workers is best protected when they regularly complete check ins throughout their time at work. For example, My Safety Buddy’s Welfare Checks allow you to set regular check-ins throughout your day. If the user misses a check in My Safety Buddy is looking out for them and will automatically send an alert.

Watch Me — the solution should enable the user to notify emergency contacts that the user is in a higher risk situation than usual. For example, My Safety Buddy’s Watch Me will notify emergency contacts that the user is in a higher risk situation. If the user does not complete the check in at the end of the Watch Me, My Safety Buddy will notify their emergency contacts.

Shake for Duress Alarm — when under extreme stress, many users will struggle to activate poorly designed duress alarms. The solution should offer the quickest and simplest way of activating an alert such as My Safety Buddy’s shake to activate option.

Incapacitated Person (Man Down) Alarm — look for a back up solution for situations where the worker experiences an incident that makes them unable to use the duress alarm. For example, My Safety Buddy’s innovative Incapacitated Person (Man Down) Alarm uses the motion detection of the smartphone to detect if the user has been immobile for a pre-determined amount of time.

In summary the perfect solution needs to be designed with the user, administrator and organisation in mind. Whatever solution you choose must offer the best fit for the type of lone/isolated workers in your organisation and should be a scalable solution that represents good value for money.

The team at Holland Thomas developed My Safety Buddy to provide lone and isolated workers with a next generation safety solution.

Should you wish to discuss how My Safety Buddy can improve your staff’s safety in their work environment, please feel welcome to contact Holland Thomas.

Image credit: © F. Young


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