With varying figures suggesting there are some seven million lone workers in the UK at present, those of us going about our daily grind alone face risk at every turn. But the fact that over one in five of us are lone workers doesn’t necessarily mean we work for ourselves.
In fact many lone workers are employed by large organisations for whom they pose both a safety and financial risk.
Recent research from Orange suggests it goes further than this. While nearly half of us identify ourselves as lone workers, the term actually applies to over 71% when you account for the time spent alone in situations like being late in the office or travelling to meetings on public transport.
Of course, much of this is driven by advances in wireless communications technology, which while driving down costs and building precious margins, brings additional risk to the business.
As Kevin Golding, co-owner and director of TrakRanger, points out, working alone has become increasingly prevalent as enterprises come under increasing pressure to do more with less.
‘Traffic wardens and social workers for example frequently work unaccompanied, where previously they might have had a partner or trainee with them. This increased risk to staff can be mitigated with automated lone worker monitoring, without incurring substantial costs,’ he says.
According to Craig Swallow (pictured right), MD of lone worker protection provider Connexion2, the market is defined by a number of factors, not least the type of lone worker solution suitable for reducing risk to employees.
While some use a dedicated lone worker device, others prefer a lone worker application which sits on a non-dedicated device that has another primary function, he explains.
‘The key driver for this should be an understanding of risk, reflected in an appropriate solution,’ he adds. ‘This affects the key functions that are required whether it be any or several of the following: audio evidence capture, man-down alarm, GPS location data etc.’
Today, Swallow says that BS8484, the British Standard for Lone Worker Device Services, has become the benchmark for judging any credible solution. As such, any product granted an audit approval against the standard can ensure a police escalation at a regional level by being issued a URN (unique reference number) for each police force, thus ensuring a response.
‘How the police respond to emergencies raised through a lone worker alarm is obviously a key driver for how effective a solution can be should the worst occur,’ he adds. ‘Only last month ACPO updated their guidelines on ‘Police Response to Security Systems’ increasing the importance of solutions being audited against BS8484 through a UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) accredited body in line with ACPO requirements.’
Swallow believes that corporate manslaughter also has a part to play, with any organisation found guilty of this likely to get a potentially business-killing fine of several hundred thousand pounds and the possibility of catastrophic brand equity or share-price damage.
‘Corporate manslaughter cases can run alongside individual manslaughter cases against potentially culpable individuals if deemed in the public interest by the Crown,’ he explains.
Indeed, communications and risk mitigation means solutions like TrakRanger are being deployed in diverse scenarios, from councils looking to protect enforcement officers to taxi companies.
‘We have councils that use TrakRanger to keep a watchful eye on their wardens’ location and to quickly dispatch assistance in the event of unsocial behaviour towards the warden. Using existing two-way radios fitted with GPS-enabled microphones allows TrakRanger to be deployed quickly and cost effectively,’ adds Golding.
‘GPS enables the tracking of devices and functionality derived from that like speed logging, route tracing and location-based alerts. Radio and GSM connections enable the enhanced communications, such as automatic alerting of appropriate assistance by phone, email or text in the event of an emergency,’ he says.
GPS-enabled devices then report their coordinates back to TrakRanger using either the radio system that they’re connected to, via a data interface unit, or a small application in the case of smartphones. So, rather than be tied to one manufacturer’s devices, it supports different devices from various manufacturers, including the ability to mix devices on each system.
Of course, the chief limitation of any remote monitoring solution is its wireless connection, according to Simon Read, head of product management at APD Communications, the developers of Omniguard for UK emergency services.
‘There is no practical 100% coverage bearer currently, so there will always be situations where a device may not be able to send an alert to its host system,’ he says.
This partly explains why the company deployed INE Enterprise from iTrinegy to test its resilience and failover features.
In the case of Omniguard, the host system alerts the centrally located operator in the event of TETRA coverage being lost, so they are aware of this situation when it arises.
Read says that to date TETRA has not been employed as a bearer for lone worker tracking or monitoring applications, with Omniguard being the first solution to utilise this.
‘In other verticals the ‘norm’ is 3G or GPRS, as this is so widely available and running costs are minimal,’ he adds. ‘Typically a small device will also be employed to be activated by the user when needed. In the emergency services market a benefit of Omniguard is that it utilises the user’s existing TETRA radio handsets and so is easy to adopt. Plus users can choose to remotely ‘opt-in’ to being monitored in certain situations, so rather than being viewed as ‘Big Brother’ watching their every move, it’s more of a friend keeping an eye on them when they feel they need it.’
Read thinks that given the recent civil disturbances, increasing difficulties organisations face through spending cuts and the need to better utilise resources, we’ll only see the demand for lone worker solutions increasing in the years to come.
‘The police are now significantly increasing single-crew deployment, so they will need to consider the health and safety of their officers and their duty of care responsibilities,’ he adds.
‘As corporate risk increases, so will the desire to ensure an organisation is meeting its duty of care,’ Swallow reminds us.