How advances in mobile apps and wearable technology can help employers monitor & protect lone working and remote staff

A solid lone worker safety solution is crucial in today’s modern mobile workforce.

Every 15 seconds, 151 people suffer a workplace accident and every year, 321,000 people lose their lives at work, according to statistics taken from the International Labor Organization. This seems inconceivable, particularly as most workplace accidents are preventable. So why, in an age of perpetual advances in almost every sector, are we still failing to protect our employees and how can we change this?  

Workplace accidents often occur due to a lack of health and safety policies and risk assessments within the workplace. Without thorough risk assessments in place, employers are unable to identify the risks that their staff face and put plans in place to help avoid them. 

As health and safety legislators continue to crack down on workplace negligence, employers are under increasing pressure to ensure their workers are kept safe. In this article, we explore how advances in mobile app technology can help companies overcome common safety challenges by delivering a fit for purpose lone worker safety solution.

The hazards and risks of lone working

There are currently 53 million lone workers across Canada, the United States and Europe, according to the analyst firm Berg Insight. Lone workers make up 15% of the total workforce. Due to increasing economic pressures, there has been a rise in major facility management companies outsourcing facility management services in order to increase their footprint. This is likely to lead to an increase in lone workers in the sector.

Lone workers face a number of different risks because their roles involve them spending large amounts of time alone. Should a lone worker suffer an accident or find themselves in a confrontation, they do not have the support of colleagues to provide medical assistance or help defuse the situation. 

For employees that work in potentially hazardous environments, such as maintenance staff, the risk of an accident happening is much greater. These workers face risks including slips, trips and falls, handling dangerous materials, large moving objects and asbestos. Similarly, for workers that travel to different locations as part of their role, there is always the risk that an accident could happen on the road.

As a result, employers are favouring app-based solutions that can be conveniently accessed via a smartphone or tablet and help managers ensure their staff are safe throughout their working day. Lone worker protection solutions are expected to double by 2022, according to Berg Insight. The firm predicts that solutions which rely on GPS or mobile phone technology will rise from 500,000 in 2017, to around 1.1 million by 2022. But how do these mobile apps protect lone workers and why are they so popular?

How mobile apps protect employees

Previously, many companies have opted for traditional methods of monitoring workers, such as buddy systems or check-in calls. However, these options can be time-consuming, unreliable and often include a large amount of paperwork. Significant advances in mobile technology has led many companies to switch to app-based lone worker solutions to help them monitor and protect their remote staff. As most people carry their mobile phones with them everywhere they go, this is a quick and easy way to ensure staff are safe. 

Lone worker apps such as StaySafe, work by monitoring an employees’ location via GPS. Before a period of lone work or travel, employees start a timed session on the app which can be viewed by a monitor on the cloud-based hub. Companies have the option of monitoring lone worker safety in-house or outsourcing this to a professional 24/7 monitoring and response partner.

If an employee fails to end their lone working session safely, a session expiry alert will be sent to their employer or chosen monitor. If a worker finds themselves in a dangerous situation, they can trigger a panic alert and help can be quickly dispatched to their location. Lone worker apps, such as StaySafe, also include check-in reminders. These alerts prompt users to check-in routinely to confirm that they are safe. 

Mobile apps are particularly useful for employees working off-site in remote locations who are at high risk. Leading technology providers Ericsson use StaySafe to track their engineers when working alone, out of hours and in areas of low signal. In areas where a signal cannot be located, low signal mode is automatically activated in the app. While in low signal mode, session communications will continue to be sent to the hub via 2G SMS.

Unlike the traditional methods of calling workers to find out their whereabouts or using buddy systems, managers can check the status of their workers whenever they need to with mobile technology. They will also be notified automatically if a worker misses a check-in or raises an alert. This saves companies a lot of time and helps to minimise discrepancies. 

Wearable technology 

If an employee works alone, a fall could be made much worse if they are unable to receive immediate help. In serious cases, they may be knocked unconscious or suffer a severe injury.

For employees that are particularly vulnerable to workplace accidents, such those who work at height or with machinery, wearable lone worker alarms provide extra protection in case of a fall or injury. In these instances, using a phone is not always convenient to check-in or raise an alarm.

Lone worker alarms will automatically detect if an employee has not moved for a prolonged period or if there has been a sudden impact. The alarm will then send an alert to a manager so that they can send immediate assistance. Workers can also trigger a discreet panic alert through the device if they are in a threatening situation. 

Relying on a phone call to certify the safety and security of your lone workers is not always enough, particularly if the worker is in an area of low signal, where a call might not get through. Mobile lone worker apps and wearable technology developments make it far easier to identify genuine emergencies and respond quickly. 

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