Managing lone workers in health and safety can be a challenge and with 2020 bringing about a new focus on homeworking, it is no longer select professions that have to worry about how their workers are coping when they are not being supervised.
In professions where lone working is very common like certain engineering and minings roles, lone worker alarms are viewed as a good way to provide employees with the ability to signal others when they are in danger. Quick response to incidents can often be the difference between life and death.
A lone worker is a term that can be applied to anyone who works alone, either in a fixed facility or away from their regular base of work. Some of the most common workplaces for lone working include; factories, hospitals, warehouses, and utilities/maintenance.
What is a lone worker alarm?
A lone worker alarm is a system that enables those working alone to signal when they are experiencing an emergency. The alarm can come in many different forms including smartphones and wearables devices. They are usually sent to a monitoring system that may be provided by the employer or even emergency services.
Lone worker alarms in the form of apps are very popular for the practicality and ease of adoption. Whilst they come with other risks (phone battery and reliability etc) they can be a good way to protect workers from the threats of operating alone. Some apps even have a ‘duress alarm system’. These are good for when an employee may be being forced to close an alarm. A false pin is usually provided which gives the illusion that the alarm has been stopped; when in fact it is kept running silently.
Some of the main features to look out for in a lone worker app include:
- Built-in GPS tracking
- Fixed panic alarms
- Low battery alerts
- Checkin prompts and missed check-in alerts
- A discrete alert system
- Man down alerts
These features help cover a wide variety of different hazards that may be presented to lone workers during the course of their duties.
What are the different types of lone worker alarms?
With different industries requiring slightly different approaches, there are also different alarms with alternative functions that help protect lone workers.
Duress alarm: when workers are confronted with an attacker
Duress alarms are among the most popular and are useful for when a lone worker is confronted with an attacker or someone exhibiting threatening behaviour.
Man-down alarm: Used to detect medical emergencies
A Man-down alarm’s main use is to send a notification when someone has collapsed or is experiencing a medical emergency.
Panic alarm: Used when a sudden incident has caused panic
Panic alarms are usually visible and easily accessible. They are used when a sudden incident has caused instant panic in a worker.
Discreet Panic alarm: Used to send an alert without an audible alarm
Discreet Panic alarms are used when a worker feels threatened and panicked but does not want to escalate the situation by initiating a loud alarm.
These are some of the lone worker alarm that are available on the market and they all have different uses which can help to protect employees even when they are faced with challenging and unpredictable situations. This is crucial given the increased risk workers face when they are operating alone.
How are lone workers at risk?
Part of the risk associated with lone working is the lack of supervision and help that can be given in the event of an accident. If a worker does come in harm’s way the lack of a speedy response can prove fatal. Also, the need to sometimes make instant safety decisions without the input of another person can raise an additional risk to lone working.
With many also facing lone working as the ‘new normal’ workers are being faced with a situation that is constantly changing and for many this will be their first experiencing working alone. It is in situations like these where a lone worker alarm can help manage some of the risks.
What are lone worker alarms good for?
There are some natural benefits to lone worker alarms including the general reduction of response times to major and minor incidents concerning lone workers. They are particularly useful in environments where lone working employees are at a greater risk of slipping and falling.
In some cases, lone worker alarm systems are also designed so that they can be activated if a worker is impaired or knocked unconscious. This partial removal of the ‘human error’ variable associated with lone worker alarms helps to increase their overall effectiveness.
How you can help protect lone workers
Whilst lone worker alarms are a great way to provide an added safety net to those working in isolation, they need to be part of a holistic approach to worker safety if you are going to stop your lone workers from becoming endangered.
Employers have a duty of care towards workers as outlined by the HSE Executive through the health and safety at work act. As a result, when work is being done in isolation the employer will need to carry out extra measures to ensure they protecting lone workers.
Some of the key steps to take when protecting lone workers include conducting the appropriate lone worker risk assessments and developing a robust lone worker policy. Beyond that training is also good to show employees how they can work safely when they are not being supervised.
When conducting a lone worker risk assessment, a lone worker alarm could be a good way to introduce a controlling measure for the risks that employees may be exposed to when operating in isolation. It is vital to stay up to date with the latest best practice when it comes to lone workers, as the recent HSE review of the current guidance has shown.