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Given the already pressured day-to-day environment hospital workers are asked to undertake duties in on a daily basis, personal security should be the least of their concern. Unfortunately trends show that physical assaults on such workers pose a very real and tangible threat.
Hospital Security has been thrown into the forefront of public discussion recently, with a report from the Greater London Authority Conservatives (GLAC) indicating that a chilling 12,386 physical assaults have been reported on staff working in acute services such as hospital emergency departments, maternity wards and medical imaging units.
Protecting Lone Workers
Hospital personnel often fall into the category of ‘lone workers’, whether working the night shift, managing a ward alone due to stretched resources, or travelling within the wider community. According to the UK Health and Safety Executive, a lone worker is: “Someone who works by themselves or without close or direct supervision.” Figures from the BSIA suggest that “over 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.”
In accordance with the Health and Safety at work act (1974), employers should provide support through equipment and procedures to control the risks of working alone. A key suggestion from the GLAC report was that emergency services staff should wear body-worn cameras and panic buttons. According to the author of the report, Roger Evans such technology is essential: “Affordable wearable technology, such as wearable panic buttons and body worn cameras, will help bolster the security and protection of these essential workers.”
As well as body-worn equipment, there are a number of measures hospitals can take to optimise security health, such as implementing effective access control measures and CCTV systems.
Access Control Measures
Despite hospitals being a busy environment – often open 24 hours a day – it is important to monitor who is entering and leaving the hospital in an efficient and intelligent way. Access control provides the ability to control, monitor and restrict the movement of people or assets in, out and around a hospital.
Mike Sussman, chairman of the BSIA’s Access Control Section, comments: “Having access control technology in place will not only deter criminals, but can physically prevent them from entering the site, whilst offering a versatile and cost-effective way to regulate entry to premises.”
Despite the inherently busy and unpredictable nature of hospitals wherein members of the public often come and go freely, restricting access to specific areas is vitally important. Access control cards that use radio frequency identification (RFID) chips provide a convenient tool for proximity reading of card details and the activation of gates, turnstiles and vehicle barriers. The system has a wide range of applications from controlling a single entrance door to a large integrated security network, and can prove invaluable when protecting restricted areas. Other identification devices, which can be used to identify users before granting access include; smart cards and readers; swipe cards and readers; PIN pads; and finally biometric equipment such as fingerprint and iris scanning.
Door controller software
Door controller software is another important tool in an access control system. Such systems can be used to differentially grant access at specific times during the day to particular people. This is especially useful when areas shift from being ‘restricted’ to ‘open’ to the public – i.e. during visiting hours. There are several options when it comes to installing this technology including: a standalone door controller linked to a single door with no software; a number of door controllers all linked to a single PC to control one network; or a number of sites all interlinked together over a wide network area.
In addition, systems such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) can prove valuable in limiting access and identifying unwanted intruders. ANPR monitors the entry of vehicles on-site using CCTV-style cameras and computer software which identify number plates. Some systems will also store photographs of the driver and vehicle for subsequent analysis. This can prove useful by drawing the attention of hospital security staff to suspicious individuals. Indeed often ANPR can enable the identification of returning criminals.
Access control software can also integrate beneficially with CCTV systems for an even more comprehensive security plan. One major benefit of this type of integration is pre and post-event video recordings initiated by the access control system. Video recordings can be linked with event information, which makes searching for a particular event on the recording much more efficient. For example, if an intruder has entered the building and attempted to breach an access controlled area by forcing a door, operators can search for ‘Door forced – laboratory 4’ allowing them to easily look at images of the intruder and react accordingly.
One particular element of CCTV that is being increasingly employed in a number of sectors is that of Video Content Analysis (VCA). VCA is the name given to the automatic analysis of CCTV images, which is then used to create meaningful information regarding the content. For example, VCA can be used to automatically detect an intruder, or to count the number of people entering or leaving an area – beneficial, for instance, for keeping track of how many people have entered or left an emergency room during a given period of time. Another element of CCTV that can prove invaluable for the health sector is BS8418, the British Standard for remotely monitored, detector-activated CCTV systems. When deployed, BS8418 compliant solutions consist of cameras and detectors placed strategically around a site, linked together by specialised transmission equipment to a Remote Video Response Centre (RVRC).
Here, operators can visually confirm what is happening; call up on‑screen plans of the hospital and even issue verbal warnings to intruders via on-site speakers. If necessary, the RVRC operators can also alert the police. As the incident is confirmed visually and is associated with a URN (Unique Reference Number), should provide a rapid response. The ability to provide a prompt response when incidents occur is a priceless feature within the health sector, allowing situations to be managed effectively and for hospital staff to continue their own vital tasks without being called away.
Body-worn safety equipment
As suggested by the GLAC report, body-worn safety equipment can have a positive impact on hospital security health. Indeed Craig Swallow, Managing Director of BSIA member company Connexion2 which specialises in lone worker protection equipment comments: “Unfortunately, attacks on lone workers within the NHS are on the rise. Community and health workers often find themselves in situations where they are subjected to violent and verbal abuse. At times it seems that uniforms alone can act as a trigger for anti‑social behaviour.”
“Companies and organisations in both the public and private sector are becoming more astute to the fact that although devices such as body-worn alarms come at an initial cost, long term, they are vital to mitigate security risks posed to staff members.”
One major benefit of body-worn equipment, such as alarms or automatic audio recorders is that they enable employers to compile evidence discreetly which can be used to ensure criminal convictions. Another benefit is that unlike alarms placed inconspicuously under desks, body-worn alarm systems move along with human assets meaning proximity is never an issue.
As well as providing valuable footage to be used in court, body-worn video cameras can be connected back to the overall security management platform. This means that a time and date stamp can be associated with the video so that it can be logged as an incident in the same way as footage caught on a CCTV camera would be.
While body-worn cameras have been employed by police officers within the UK Craig Swallow comments on their use in the hospitals: “Body-worn video devices produce better quality evidence; however their use in a hospital environment poses certain interesting questions relating to data protection, patient privacy and the use cameras in public spaces.”
Whilst historically having the right infrastructure and bandwidth has been an issue for the widespread adoption of these systems, the good news is that this is now being overcome as models are being brought to market that are able to stream video and audio content over advanced next generation IP radio networks.