Workplace safety is an issue that is top of mind for any organization. It is an employer’s duty—often legal responsibility to protect those in their employ. While most businesses have at least some safety protocols in place for their staff, protecting employees from violence, injury and medical emergency continues to be a significant challenge for employers.
Consider this: There are an estimated 31,000 workplace injures every day and 4,500 workplace deaths every year. The awful human cost of workplace risk can’t be calculated, but business costs can. Workplace safety failures cost businesses more than $200 billion annually.
Employee safety risk, while inherent in many situations, rises astronomically in the case of lone workers. According to a recent study, an estimated 53 million people in the US, Canada and Europe are considered lone workers, accounting for approximately 15 percent of the workforce. Every single one of those 53 million are at some level of risk. For workers in high-danger positions including mental health facilities, remote locations, challenging neighborhoods, those working after hours or even as a remote worker, danger is omnipresent. Workplace violence is heightened in these situations and women are overwhelmingly the target of this violence. Violence, however, is only one part of the equation. Working alone comes with inherent risk for other emergencies, including accidents and sudden health complications.
If an emergency happens to a lone worker when no one is present to come to their aid, an otherwise minor issue can turn into a full-blown disaster for the worker and for the business. That’s why there are significant regulations employers must adhere to for workplace safety. These may include check-in/check-out procedures, risk assessments and more. The rules vary from country to country, province to province and industry to industry, but every business has at least some legal responsibility to mitigate safety risks for their workforce.
So, how do businesses successfully mitigate risk for their lone workers and others who may work in dangerous environments? Planning, vigilance and the right technology are a great place to start.
Technology and the connected world have completely altered the way we work, live and play. And it has been a boon to workplace and lone worker safety. But is it the final answer for mitigating worker risk?
Technology is so amazing that we now rely on it so heavily that we get completely discombobulated when it isn’t working the way we expect it to. This is more a testament to the power of technology than it is a human flaw. The technology power/reliance dynamic, though, draws a perfect example of what businesses must consider when utilizing technology to mitigate safety risks for their employees.
Yes, businesses should rely on technology, but they must also identify its gaps—and fill them.
The ability to be connected almost anywhere has seemingly solved the issue of lone worker safety, as they can now be “connected” at all times. Staying connected, however, isn’t the only consideration businesses must make when putting a lone worker safety program into place. When choosing a technology for your worker safety program, be wary of the existing safety gaps that come with that technology.
Consider the following:
Violent attacks or sudden medical issues may prevent a lone worker from being able to take the necessary steps to call for help, especially in the case of smartphones. They may not be able to reach a phone in their pocket or purse or have time to unlock the phone and dial numbers for help. And in the case of a safety app, does the app need to be opened to send an alert? This can add another level of complication to the process.
Technologies like smartphones are great, but if the lone worker can only make a single call, and that person doesn’t answer, what happens? Look for technologies that send multiple alerts to multiple parties and can take backup measures, like calling 911, when the initial contacts are unavailable.
Choosing a technology that lone workers understand easily and feel comfortable using is imperative for your worker safety plan. The best safety solution is the one that gets used. If your workers don’t adopt your safety technology, your plan falls apart very quickly.
When a person is under threat, everything changes. Their mind will race, and seemingly normal tasks may become difficult to perform. Ensure that the technology you choose is simple to operate, even under duress.
Consider your needs
Every business, and every worker safety situation is different. Find a technology that will bend to your situation, not the other way around.
There are a variety of technologies out there that can help you solidify workplace safety. Each has its own pros and cons. Some of the most popular technologies are the following:
These wearable devices have been around for decades. They have mostly been targeted towards the elderly and others with health issues that put them at daily risk. The alert is generally passed through a monitoring company that handles the alert and figures out what to do next, like call an ambulance or notify the police. For many dangerous situations, that approach can kill precious time. These devices are also designed to work within a small area—the home or yard, for example. Most at-risk employees work in much larger areas and require wearable safety technology that conforms to a variety of different environments and situations.
There are a variety of safety apps available that are designed for specific functionalities. Some are designed to meet compliance regulations, some are designed for check-in/check-out logs, and some as alert systems. All can be useful, depending on your needs, but safety apps alone may not be enough in emergency situations. Alert apps can be unreliable, due to the fact that the employee in distress needs to be able to reach their phone, unlock it and open the app before sending an alert. In emergency situations, that’s not always possible. Safety apps, in a vacuum, leave gaps in your employee safety plan. But safety apps that offer specific functionality—like SolusGuard’s check-in/check-out software—can be paired with a wearable safety device to create a comprehensive safety solution that covers all the bases.
Smartphones are great for a lot of things—but worker safety isn’t necessarily one of them. Smartphones are easy to use, but that might not be the case during an emergency when every fraction of a second counts. Will the phone be easily reachable? Will the worker be able to unlock it, open an app and hit the right buttons? Not always.
With a new wave of internet-connected devices and IoT technology, wearable technology— including alert devices like panic buttons—we have made advances in everything from logistics to medicine to personal fitness. Worker safety is no exception. With devices like SolusGuard’s wearable panic button, for example, you can protect your employees easily, efficiently and discreetly.
Unlike medical alert devices, these high-tech panic buttons are customizable, and work within technology platforms that businesses and employees utilize every day, like mobile devices and WiFi. Employers can set up their own contacts to alert in case of emergency—a supervisor or colleagues, for example—to determine the fastest course of action. If contacts don’t respond within two minutes, an emergency call to 911 is automatically placed.
Wearable panic buttons are also discreet, which can come in handy in the event of an emergency. Wearable as a pendant or belt loop clip, these devices are easy to wear and don’t look like a big “emergency” button.
Technology devices that send an alert when there is an emergency are essential. But reporting on those incidents is essential to businesses as well. Make sure to choose a technology that does more than simply send an alert. The better solutions have an activity dashboard that keeps logs of incidents when they occur – this is important for compliance and legal reporting. Implementing a technology suite, rather than simply an alert system, will help you develop a well-rounded plan that works for your employees and your business.
Medical alert devices, wearable safety devices, smartphones and safety apps all rely on some form of monitoring. The most traditional option is to use a third-party call center where operators respond to emergency calls on your behalf. Alternatively, SolusGuard provides a self-monitoring option where you choose your emergency contacts who are notified through their mobile devices. A backup call, either to 911 or a number of your choice, provides a failsafe in the event your emergency contacts are unavailable. SolusGuard also provides a web-based Command Center option that can be used by your own call center or security team.
No matter what type of technology you choose to help protect your workers, developing and implementing a comprehensive worker safety plan is by far the most important part of the process. The following steps will help you get started:
Conducting a full and thorough audit of your employee and lone worker safety risks, as well as your existing safety procedures is an imperative first step to protecting your employees. For most businesses in most countries, a safety assessment is also a legal obligation. Your safety audit should provide you with critical information about your risks and the individual needs of your business and employees. Once you have a clear picture of this information, you can start developing a plan.
The latest technology can streamline your safety plan and create an efficient and effective way to keep your at-risk employees safe. Not every technology, however, works for every business and every worker. Using the information that you learned from your safety assessment, look for a technology platform that can be customized to your specific needs. Remember, don’t try to mold your business to a technology, find a technology that bends to the needs of your business. There are plenty of options out there. Choose one that suits your needs, and that will be easily adopted by your employees.
Once you’ve chosen a technology, you should launch a pilot program of the technology before making a full, long-term commitment. This requires more than just simply using the technology. In many cases, your employees will be asked to use something they’ve never used before. Socializing the new technology—and getting employee buy-in—are essential to success. Plan training for your employees to learn and get used to the new technology. If you have a large number of employees who will be using the new system, you may want to consider a full change management plan to help get everyone on board. During the pilot phase, test the new technology to determine if it works for your specific business needs, and for your employees. Try to get consistent feedback from everyone who uses the system and adjust your approach accordingly.
Once you’ve piloted and tested your technology—and held employee training—it’s ready to go. A great safety plan though, is never “set it and forget it.” To ensure everything is working correctly and your employees are doing their part by following protocol, you must continuously review and test your procedures. Look for gaps you may have missed in your initial assessment. Make adjustments when there are changes to the way your business or your employees operate. Always look for ways to improve your approach, and always look for new gaps that may have opened over time. By consistently reviewing and improving your plan, you’ll create a much safer environment for your employees—and for your business.
SolusGuard delivers a suite of workforce safety and lone worker protection solutions to help keep your employees safe and your business compliant. We work with you to create customized security plans that minimize risk for your workers and your business. Our suite of solutions includes a custom-designed wearable panic button; employee check in/out software; customizable alert monitoring; and a satellite extender. SolusGuard is an excellent solution for any business with lone workers, or for which worker safety is a concern, such as—home care, mental health and addictions, property management, inspection and compliance, security and transportation.