In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns faced by businesses across the globe there has been an unprecedented increase in people working from home. Worksafe maintains guidance aimed at employers to encourage them to consider the safety of home workers (here).
“If you run a business which has staff working from home, you are responsible for talking through and developing policies with them on how they’ll manage their health and safety when working at home”.MBIE’s business.govt.nz website
So how can you ensure home based staff are protected?
“When we talk about home working, we are often talking about logistics – how will people access systems, how will teams keep in touch? Safety isn’t always first on employers’ minds” says Don Cameron, CEO of lone worker solutions provider StaySafe. “However just because an employee is at home doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about their safety. The duty of care remains the same wherever an employee is based. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak some businesses are navigating looking after lone workers for the first time. As H&S professionals the first thing that needs to be done is a risk assessment for these employees and measures put in place to ensure they are safe”.
What are the risks?
As outlined by WorkSafe, one of the biggest risks is that there may be no one able to help, should something go wrong. Risk of an injury or medical emergency is the same for a home working employee as for one on office premises and employers have the same duty of care.
Employers also don’t have the ability to assess and control the home working environment. “Whilst for most people we would hope that being at home is a safe and suitable place to work, we really do not know what environment an employee lives in. Domestic abuse charities have warned that isolation will lead to an increase in violence in the home and the risk of the virus itself could also leave someone who lives alone vulnerable. The bottom line is, if someone if working for you, you have to take steps to protect them” says Cameron.
However, undertaking updated risk assessments is not only necessary for newly home-based employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to an increased risk profile for some existing lone working staff who continue to undertake vital work within our communities. Health services, housing authorities and charity workers are still visiting people in their homes at a time when tensions are likely to be running high, increasing the likelihood of violence and aggression. Social distancing and isolation measures have led to usually busy areas being left deserted, leaving staff vulnerable.
“We have had many companies get in touch with us since the outbreak who have concerns about keeping their staff safe, whether that is protecting new home workers or monitoring the safety of staff who now attend sites alone as part of social distancing measures. A water authority in Australia and a Housing Association in the UK increased the numbers of people using our lone worker app within days of their countries going into lockdown. It is a global safety issue employers are facing everywhere”.
Improving safety through technology
Lone worker safety isn’t a new concept for health and safety professionals and the types of protection that businesses can offer staff are comprehensive. However, as with many industries, advancing technology is leading the way with regards to the solutions employers are choosing.
According to a 2019 Berg Insights Report, 20% of all lone worker solutions in Europe, and more than 40% in North America, are app based. This number is predicted to grow; worker safety devices based on GPS and cellular technology in Europe are expected to reach 1.1 million users at the end of 2022.
Typically lone worker apps consist of the app itself, which has a range of functions including panic button, GPS location, timed sessions, man down alerts and check-ins. Employee activity and the location of staff whilst at work is monitored via a cloud based hub where employers can respond to any alerts.
Lone worker apps are particularly suitable in the current climate because of how well they lend themselves to being trialled, rolled out and utilised by staff remotely.
Apps can be downloaded directly onto employees’ phones without the need for any additional equipment being delivered. At a time when supply chains are likely to be majorly disrupted, this is a big advantage. Monitors can be trained to use a system remotely via Zoom and staff protected quickly. Alternatively, the monitoring of staff can be outsourced to professional monitoring firms who will handle any alerts.
“We’re very used to rolling out StaySafe remotely.” says Stephen Robb, Director of Secure Mobility, StaySafe’s local partner. “We have managed roll-outs to over 1000 staff in Australia from the New Zealand. In this day and age, you don’t have to be in the same room, or even the same country as someone for them to get the most out of your product”.
Engagement at a distance
Launching a new solution when you can’t train staff collectively on site poses another challenge for employers. As with any investment, it is important to know you are getting staff engagement and ROI. Again, apps have an advantage here.
StaySafe has recently launched a number of updates to help increase engagement and usage. In-app training walks new users step by step through how to use the app and our insights portal shows businesses who is using the app and how often. Our support services are available over the phone, email and webchat and we actively reach out to users who haven’t completed their training to encourage them to log in and start a session.Stephen Robb, Director, Secure Mobility
Increased home working – a permanent shift?
“What started out as a forced arrangement may become a catalyst for more flexible ways of working” says Cameron.
We don’t know the long-term effects at this point, but it is likely that some businesses will find positives in their new working arrangements. The ability to work from home is believed to improve productivity, mental wellbeing and work-life balance. It reduces the numbers of people commuting and as such can also have a positive effect on the environment. We have the technology to do it safely – so why not?
StaySafe provides a lone worker app and cloud-based hub that monitors and protects thousands of lone workers around the world. Find out more at https://www.securemobility.nz/covid-19-safeguarding-employees-during-social-isolation/