Amid a climate of cuts, Jim Irving, CEO of Guardian24, considers how lone worker technology is not only helping to keep staff safe, but is also helping to increase efficiencies in other areas.
In the current climate of cuts and efficiency savings, housing providers are frequently expected to do more in terms of results, with fewer resources. A squeeze in budgets is leading to a drive for efficiency savings across every area and for critical areas such as health and safety, this has the potential to put staff at risk.
However, key pieces of legislation are in place which remind us all of the importance of keeping staff safe. In April 2011, new updates to the Corporate Manslaughter Act saw stricter guidelines for prosecuting companies for the most serious health and safety breaches, including new recommendations for fines starting from £500,000.
Growing number of lone workers
The current economy has had a big impact on how companies are implementing lone, flexible and mobile-working policies, and financial cutbacks are sometimes leading to significant implications for health and safety. One of the consequences of the current climate is the increasing number of lone or agile workers. Lone workers can take many different forms; they might be employees making visits in the community, working alone from home, or attending client meetings on their own.
More recently, we have seen a significant rise in the number of people performing a task on their own that traditionally would have been conducted by two or more members of staff.
This trend is also linked to growing numbers of staff working remotely. Frequently, it is mobile technology which has freed people from their offices and allowed them to work almost anywhere. While this has many benefits, some companies are not fully adapting their health and safety strategies to suit these lone workers.
Keeping staff safe
Many companies do appreciate the importance of keeping their staff safe, whether working alone or not, but there are some instances where there is room for improvement. What is really vital is that companies reassess their policies frequently to make sure they are realistic for their new operating circumstances.
The growing number of lone workers is not automatically at a higher risk than other workers, but working alone can increase employees’ vulnerability. Specialist technology is evolving to help keep lone workers safe, and there have been a variety of solutions designed specifically for this purpose.
Over the past year, there have been some interesting developments in the mobile space, creating additional functionality for an existing device such as a mobile phone or smartphone. Dedicated software allows users to log in and out of daily tasks, leave details of their location and the expected duration. If the user feels that their safety has been compromised, they can press a dedicated ‘hot key’ on a chosen device to summon emergency assistance. The service will typically record live audio and immediately notify a nominated respondent or specialist alarm receiving centre.
No need for specialist hardware
For housing providers, this kind of lone worker application keeps costs at a minimum as no new hardware is required – the technology is simply an application which adds functionality to an existing smartphone or mobile phone. This also enables the lone worker safety system to be used and carried at all times rather than forgotten or left in a drawer at the office.
It is crucial when it comes to health and safety that these systems work practically: for example, if lone workers are given specialist devices, they must be charged and accessible at all times. As well as ensuring systems work for the company, it’s equally important that staff can use them properly, as any technology will only work if those using it are doing so properly, so staff must be fully trained.
While mobile technology is becoming more and more important in this area, new applications are now available which take the concept beyond security and safety and help staff to become more productive and efficient at the same time.
New systems have been developed that digitise hand-written notes and automatically complete forms to save time on data entry. This functionality can now be combined with the ability to protect lone workers, thus increasing corporate efficiency while also keeping staff safe.
As staff are asked to do more with less and the numbers of lone workers rise, there is a risk of increased vulnerabilities when it comes to health and safety. However mobile technology is providing a solution to help companies stay on the right side of the law and keep their staff safe. In the current economy, as every company wants to improve efficiencies, mobile lone working technology is delivering more and becoming an increasingly important tool for a broad range of sectors and companies.
Jim Irving is CEO of Guardian24.