Android & iPhone Emergency SOS: do they provide enough protection for staff?

Many smartphones come equipped with built-in emergency SOS functions which can be used for free. Understandably, we sometimes get asked by prospective customers – “why can’t my staff just use the SOS feature on their smartphone if they need help?” 

In this blog we take you through just what these built-in panic features can – and most importantly can’t – do when it comes to protecting your employees. 

How do mobile SOS features work

There is an emergency feature pre-installed on all iPhones with iOS 11 or later. This allows you to quickly and discreetly call for help and alert specific emergency contacts if you’re in danger. Depending on the version of the iPhone that you have, you can activate Emergency SOS through a series of button presses to bring up a slider bar. This allows you to place a call to local emergency services.

Apple’s SOS feature uses the iPhone GPS to track an individual’s location. After the emergency call, the device sends your designated contacts a text message containing details of your current location. The device will continue to send updates if your location changes. Access to Emergency SOS is available from the iPhone’s Home screen, whether it is locked or not.

Whilst SOS features are not included on all Android devices, Samsung phones also allow you to notify a contact in an emergency. Similar to the iPhone, Samsung devices can send your current location to your emergency contact with an image of where you are and an audio recording. The feature can be turned on or off via the phone’s settings. 

Built in SOS features vs lone working solutions

So why are these inbuilt safety features not suitable for protecting your employees? Whilst the emergency SOS feature is free and easy-to-use, there are also areas where it is inadequate. Standard SOS safety features on phones have not been created specifically for lone workers and therefore do not offer all of the necessary attributes that other lone working solutions provide. 

Limitations we have seen with these solutions include:

  1. The emergency contact number is configured on every user’s phone, manually. This is an error-prone and time-consuming exercise
  2. The fact that every phone has the number manually programmed makes it difficult to change in the future should the details of the escalation contact change. All staff must be asked to make the change, and you rely on then actually doing this.
  3. If staff leave the employment of the organisation but don’t remove the emergency number, there is a chance that sometime in the future your monitor will receive an alert for this person. Do they respond to it, given the person is no longer an employee?
  4. When the SOS is triggered, it may have been some time since the user accessed the GPS on their device. This can lead to wildly inaccurate reporting of their location to the monitor.

Lone working solutions allow employees to start timed sessions before they begin a period of lone work or travel. This protects employees, as if they fail to end their session safely, a session expiry alert will be sent to the monitor. Lone working solutions also give employees the ability to send an immediate panic alert if they are in trouble. Emergency SOS buttons, on the other hand, do not allow individuals to record their whereabouts throughout the day. An individual’s location is only sent to their emergency contacts if they activate the panic signal. Some lone worker solutions also provide the option to integrate a satellite device to allow tracking of users when they are working outside of cellular coverage.

Keeping track of employee safety at work

Some lone working solutions have additional features designed to protect remote workers. For example, StaySafe includes a discreet panic feature allows an alert to be triggered using the phone’s power button from the user’s pocket or handbag without the aggressor’s knowledge. StaySafe also has a low signal mode that allows employees who work in remote areas to check-in even when the signal is limited. Employers are aware of any incidents that occur in real-time so there’s no delay in help being sent out to your employees. 

The SOS features on both Android and iPhones are also unable to detect when a person has been injured or has not moved for a long period of time, so employers will not be aware if a staff member has been hurt whilst working. StaySafe’s man-down feature works by detecting if an employee has not moved for a prolonged period of time or has not checked in.  A non-movement alert is triggered in case there has been an accident.

Both mobile SOS features and lone working solutions give users the ability to share their location with key contacts. After you make an emergency call using the iPhone SOS function, the device sends your designated contacts a text message containing details of your current location. The device will continue to send updates whenever your location changes. StaySafe has an SMS Broadcast feature which gives managers the option to send SMS text messages to their team directly from the StaySafe Hub, if one of their employees triggers an alert. This allows managers to communicate crucial information to their team as the situation progresses.

Which one should you choose?

For businesses who employ staff that have more traditional office-based job roles, the SOS smartphone features can be the perfect companion and help to keep employees safe whilst travelling to and from work. However, for companies whose staff spend a large amount of time working alone, meeting clients on their own and working in remote environments, they may not be adequate. 

Whilst SOS features may be more cost-effective, they also lack the necessary attributes to keep your lone working staff safe. Investing in a dedicated lone worker solution can be more effective in the long run and provide the level of protection that is needed for workers who spend long periods of time in isolation.

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