Featured in HR Review 2nd May 2013
Henry Woods, CEO of Guardian24, looks at how lone worker mobile technology is not only helping to keep staff safe amidst a climate of cuts, but can also increase workforce efficiencies.
Managing health and safety within the corporate environment has always been an important issue. However in the current climate of cuts and efficiency savings, teams and individuals are frequently being expected to deliver more on the same, or on an increasingly squeezed budget.
Development of Mobile Technology
Many companies have turned to technology, specifically mobile technology, to enable greater efficiencies. Such as enabling staff to work from home or remotely in their business. As a result, the pace of development of mobile technology has been rapid, with more and more sophisticated solutions being brought to market to enable virtually any role or task to be undertaken from virtually anywhere.
The impact has been extremely positive, with an increasing array of efficiencies being realised by organisations across all sectors, and the knock-on benefit often being a greater level of flexibility for staff with regards to when and where they work.
However, there is another side to this ever-increasing tide of mobile progress. The most obvious of which is that people are spending more time alone, meeting with clients, visiting sites, travelling, and so on. Therefore if something happens to them there is a greater risk that they will not be able to call for help, and their absence may not be noticed for much longer than if they were in the office.
Add to this the fact that health and safety is often in danger of being side-lined or ignored when the pressure’s on, and the recession has had a major impact on the safety of workers and the implications for businesses.
Corporate Manslaughter Act
Legislation can expose employers to very serious consequences if a staff member is put at risk. For example The Corporate Manslaughter Act, which was introduced five years ago, which has since had the addition of stricter guidelines for prosecuting organisations for the most serious health and safety breaches, including new fine recommendations starting from £500,000. Although it might be hoped that these sorts of penalties and the significance of the legislation demonstrates how seriously it must be taken, it appears that this yet to be realised by businesses, with the number of corporate manslaughter cases rising 40 per cent to 63 in 2012, compared to 45 in 2011.
But the argument is not simply for or against mobile technology. In fact, over recent years, the very technology that could potentially be argued to have put employees at increasing risk of vulnerability has also become an innovative solution to safety.
There have been a variety of solutions designed specifically for the sole purpose of helping keep lone and mobile workers safe, including devices like panic alarms. But more recently, there have been some interesting developments in the mobile space such as lone worker apps that use an existing device such as a mobile phone or smartphone, which allows users to log their activity and raise an alert in a time of need. GPS functionality can track users’ whereabouts, and the phone can open a listen live capability in the event of an incident.
For organisations, this kind of lone worker application keeps costs at a minimum as no new hardware is required – the technology is simply an application which adds functionality to a smartphone or mobile phone. This also means the device is much more likely to be used and carried at all times rather than simply forgotten or left in a drawer at the office.
What is crucial however, when it comes to health and safety, is that these systems work practically: for example if lone working staff have personal safety devices, they need to be charged and accessible at all times, and employees must be able to raise the alarm when needed. As well as ensuring systems work for the organisation, it’s imperative that staff can use them properly. Any technology will only work if those using it are doing so properly, so staff should be properly trained.
While mobile technology is becoming more and more important in keeping lone workers safe, new applications are now coming into play which take the concept beyond just security and safety, also helping staff to become more productive and efficient in the process.
New systems are being pioneered which build on existing mobile technology to automate processes and save time. For example innovative systems are being implemented which digitise hand written notes which are captured and automatically uploaded to save time on data entry. Current and future developments around this area are very exciting. This functionality can now be teamed with the ability to protect lone workers – thus increasing organisational efficiencies, whilst also keeping staff safe.
Finding Smarter Ways to Work
The recession and the on-going pressure for greater efficiency is driving employers to find smarter ways for their staff to work. As staff are asked to do more with less and the numbers of lone workers rise, there is a risk of increased vulnerabilities when it comes to health and safety. However to a greater or lesser extent, almost every company now uses mobile working to some extent so along with mobile technology achieving greater efficiencies it is possible to provide a solution to help businesses stay on the right side of legislation and most importantly keep their staff safe. In the currently climate, just as every area of business seeks to drive up efficiencies, so too is mobile lone working technology delivering more and becoming an increasingly important tool to more sectors and organisations than ever before.