Looking after lone workers

More than six million people in the UK work either in isolation or without direct supervision, often in places or circumstances that put them at potential risk.

Almost by definition, lone working can be both intimidating and at times dangerous, so the protection of lone workers involves a twofold approach; not only to provide safeguards but also to offer reassurance to the people involved. In the healthcare sector particularly, many employees are required to work within communities, delivering care and support services for patients and their families. The nature of this work means that many are required to travel alone, both in isolated rural and busy city-centre locations, and often after dark, leaving them particularly at risk.

A solution to the risks
To address these important issues, the security industry has worked with the police and end-users to develop a combination of practice, technology and standards capable of providing an effective – and cost-effective – solution to the risks.

The development of technology and practice in the field has focused on encouraging and enabling lone workers to assess the risks they might be facing and provide them with the means both to summon aid in an emergency and collect information that can be used in evidence, if necessary. This has led to the creation of lone worker devices equipped with mobile phone technology that connect employees quickly and discreetly with an emergency response system that has direct links to the police. A number of products are commercially available from BSIA member companies, including miniature devices that resemble ID holders.

Ensuring police response
Police response is clearly a crucial factor and the technology has been developed to maximise effectiveness through the reduction of false alarms. This is achieved through a combination of 24/7 remote monitoring and two-tier alert facilities, classified as pre-activation (also know as amber alert or pre-alert) and activation (red alert). All approved devices are monitored by an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), accredited to British Standard 5979. Sending a pre-activation message allows users to inform the ARC when they are entering an area with a potential risk – e.g. before walking across a dark car park. If the user then experiences a problem or encounters a situation that seems likely to escalate into something more serious then the lone worker device can be activated to summon help.

Activating the lone worker device automatically triggers a voice call to the ARC. No further action is required by the user, as the device effectively functions as an open microphone, enabling the ARC to capture an audio recording of the incident for future action such as police investigation of legal proceedings. Operators at the ARC also monitor the audio channel in real time, enabling them to assess the situation and alert the police if the user needs help or protection. This procedure allows the police to optimise their response to genuine emergencies by providing a ‘moving picture’ of the incident, including an increase or decrease in risk as it happens. The very knowledge that this is taking place is, of course, a major boost to the user’s confidence.

Meeting the challenge

Working alongside their clients in the healthcare sector, many BSIA members have developed similar, highly-effective lone worker solutions to protect both NHS and private healthcare workers while they’re out and about in their local community.

One of the UK’s foremost independent nursing companies, Healthcare at Home, chose a BSIA member to provide lone worker devices to ensure the welfare of its nurses remains at the heart of the company’s health and safety policy. Healthcare at Home’s nurses are often on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week, working out of 17 regional centres throughout the country, providing complex therapies in the patient’s own home.

The solution provided by the BSIA member in question works by combining a discreet mobile lone worker device with the UK’s highest standard manned monitoring service from a police-approved receiving centre.

When an employee feels that they are entering a hazardous situation, they send a pre-activation message which notifies the monitoring centre of their situation. In this way, the monitoring centre is able to note the user’s location and raise the alarm if the pre-activation message is not cancelled within a pre-determined period. At the same time, if the employee activates the lone worker device, the centre’s support staff can then discreetly listen in to what is happening and make an assessment as to the level of support that’s required – involving the police if necessary. In the event of a verbal confrontation, the centre can also record the conversation for future action.

Enabling emergency healthcare

A similar solution is also provided by a BSIA member company to the Rapid Response teams introduced by Marie Curie Cancer Care in 2009 with the aim of carrying out urgent trips to the homes of people with cancer and other terminal illnesses, to offer expert care during out-of-hours periods.

“Our nurses are working day and night and visit patients for as long as nine hours at a time,” comments Yvonne Hastings, caring services manager for Nursing Operations at Marie Curie Cancer Care. “As our nurses travel alone and often after dark, this can be a dangerous time for them.”

This lone worker system allows Marie Curie nurses to notify their security provider while they are ‘on shift’ and potentially at risk. Should a member of staff experience a hazardous situation, they are a single button-press away from quickly and discreetly summoning assistance. The system is monitored by an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) through which the security company assists Marie Curie Cancer Care to manage and monitor the locations of its nurses, their time at risk and provide them with an effective duress facility, on a 24/7 basis.

“Our nurses feel the benefit of this support and find using [this technology] reassuring when on duty. They have commented that it also provides their families with peace of mind, knowing they can summon assistance when they are working at night, sometimes in isolated areas.”

A spokesperson from the BSIA member company that provides these solutions adds: “Our service is suitable for anyone working remotely. It has enabled organisations to meet the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which specifies that employers must identify potential hazards, assess the risks involved and put measures in place to avoid or control the risks associated with lone workers.”

For NHS South of Tyne and Wear, another BSIA member delivers more than 1,600 lone worker devices to frontline staff operating as lone workers within their local community in a contract that represents the largest deployment of lone worker devices and services to the NHS to date.

In addition to the functionality provided by the device, this lone worker service complies fully with the recommendations contained within the BS8484 lone worker standard in that it also caters for the potential failure of the device.

Expert guidance

The development of British Standard BS8484, a Code of Practice for the provision of Lone Worker Services, has been a key element of the security industry’s work to create such solutions. BS8484 is employed by all BSIA members in the field and forms the basis for police respond to lone worker systems.

The BSIA has also published two associated guides, which provide both employers and lone workers themselves easy-to-follow advice.

‘Lone Workers – An Employer’s Guide’ informs employers about and what to look for when sourcing a supplier. The guide covers the employers’ responsibilities to its lone workers, as well as specific criteria for selecting technology, monitoring services and providers, including the possession of quality management systems such as ISO 9001 and the delivery of appropriate training. 

‘Lone Workers – An Employers Guide’ can be downloaded free by visiting www.bsia.co.uk/publications, and searching for form number 288.

For employees whose role requires them to work alone, the BSIA has produced a separate guide, ‘Lone Workers – An Employee’s Guide’, which can be downloaded free by visiting the BSIA’s website and searching for form number 284.

James Kelly, chief executive of the BSIA, comments: “These guides recognise the importance of keeping lone workers safe and secure. Responsible employers will consider the health and safety of their lone workers as a top priority, and the use of lone worker devices can help by connecting such employees with an emergency response system that has direct links to the police. BS8484 is the basis on which police respond to lone worker systems, so it’s important for employers to choose a supplier who works to these standards.”

To find out more about the BSIA and the work of its members, or to find a reputable supplier of lone worker devices near you, visit the Association’s website.

For more information

Event Diary

You are invited to this unique annual exhibition that brings together all the disciplines from the emergency services sector who are involved in prevention, response and recovery.