Richard Quine, director of product management and development at InTechnology, explains how push-to-talk technology can help housing staff perform better while keeping their employers on the right side of the law
The nature of the housing sector is that invariably any communications system needs to take account of the disparate and diverse needs of those working in it. Office-based, field worker, or even a combination of the two, the reality is that colleagues performing different functions need to stay in contact, from everyday routine tasks to very serious emergency situations.
In recent years, several laws have been introduced to improve the safety of employees in the workplace. Even in this modern age, there have been too many instances of employers failing to protect their staff. As a result thousands of injuries, and even fatalities, happen each year because of employer negligence.
Injuries can often lead to time off work and serious financial penalties for employers, particularly if they are successfully sued.
Laws and best practice regulations to protect employees should now form a critical part of any organisation’s responsibility to their staff in ensuring their safety. For example, the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW) emphasises an employer’s duty of care, ‘to ensure the health (including mental health), safety and welfare of all employees and to create safe and healthy working systems’.
Furthermore, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSW) makes it a legal duty for every employer to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees. For example, if staff are working alone in the field, what risks might they face and how could they be mitigated?
Even more serious for employers is that they can now be held liable under the Corporate Manslaughter Act if the way in which activities are managed causes death and amounts to a gross breach of the duty of care owed to that person.
If an organisation is found to be negligent, courts have the power to impose unlimited fines and even imprisonment by placing the responsibility, accountability and liability on senior managers and directors.
With advances in modern communications technology taking place all the time, communications systems are available to support both employees and employer. And sometimes, particularly in emergency situations, just seconds of being in contact with the right person can make a difference.
Last year, InTechnology launched a new mobile service called Push to Experience (PTX). PTX is a next-generation digital radio service, a natural successor to traditional two-way business radio services (PMR). The service uses mobile networks and low-cost handsets to improve coverage and allow everyone using the service to communicate quickly as well as cheaply.
As with PMR radios, PTX-enabled handsets have a dedicated Push to Talk (PTT) button which lets the user instantly broadcast to every member of the team. PTX also enables office workers to communicate with field workers from their PC rather than needing to use a handset.
By combining these communications functions into one unit, one advantage for employees is that they no longer need to carry around more than one communications device.
Even more important is that PTX has far superior coverage than 2-way radio. As PTX uses the global GSM mobile networks, the range of the service is restricted only by the coverage of the mobile phone networks, estimated at being 99 per cent of the UK.
PTX can also perform better than mobile phones during periods of heavy network congestion, for example during a large-scale event or emergency situation. Unlike phone calls which are blocked when all the available voice channels in a cell are in use, PTX uses the data channel which slows down under congestion but is much more likely to remain available.
To achieve this, InTechnology has private connectivity into the four major UK mobile networks (Orange, Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile) and therefore can use the data network provided by each of these carriers. Multiple redundant internet feeds extend this connectivity offering even further coverage by enabling users to connect over standard wired or wireless networks using a Windows PC client.
PTX also provides monitoring and security for lone workers with constant communications, panic buttons and GPS tracking. So not only can you quickly connect in emergency situations, the likelihood is that the device will also show the location of the user on a web interface.
PTX has been developed for any organisation where employees need to stay in regular and close contact, both individually with each other and as a group. Using the GSM network and low-cost handsets to improve coverage, PTX is the natural successor to two-way radio services.
Another feature of PTX is that it is designed for quick and easy roll-out, and centrally managed within an organisation through a dedicated portal. This web-based management console enables users to add and remove PC and mobile subscribers and move existing subscribers between communications groups immediately.
Since its launch, PTX is now used by organisations in hospitals, hotels, transport, agriculture, security, across business parks and other similar locations throughout the UK.
Richard Quine is director of product management and development at InTechnology.