The fundamentals of lone worker safety

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. The nature of their 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.

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 an efficient police escalation process
In the United Kingdom, the most efficient way to raise a lone worker alarm is through a lone worker solution that is audited and approved against BS8484, the first British Standard for the provision of lone worker device services, introduced in 2009.

The ability to elicit a police response is clearly a crucial factor and credible lone worker solutions have been developed to maximise effectiveness through the reduction of false alarms (often achieved through the capture of valuable audio evidence informing a process of discernment during an emergency situation involving a lone worker). This is achieved through a combination of 24/7 remote monitoring and two-tier alert facilities, classified as pre-activation (aka 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 (Category II). An ARC should also be audited and approved against the relevant section of BS8484 along with BS5979 Category II in order to apply for a Unique Reference Number (URN). Once issued by the local Police Force the URN allows the ARC to raise an alert one level above a 999 call, which aids the user in receiving a timely response.

Sending a pre-activation message from a device allows users to dynamically assess risk whilst informing 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 the lone worker device can be activated to summon help quickly.

Typically, 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.

Duty of care
Working alongside their clients, many BSIA members have developed similar, highly effective lone worker solutions to protect a wide range of personnel, including truancy officers, community nurses, transport workers and victims of domestic abuse.

Meeting their obligations under duty of care legislation is a key concern for many customers, and one of the main reasons why lone worker devices are introduced. In fact, acknowledging its responsibilities under Health & Safety legislation and duty of care and by identifying and understanding specific risks encountered by its wone workers were the primary reasons behind The Capita Group PLC’s decision to invest in a lone worker security solution provided by BSIA member, Argyll. 

The Capita Group PLC is the UK’s leading business process outsourcing (BPO) and professional services company. Among the many roles performed by Capita is providing the majority of customer service, administration and enforcement of TV Licensing throughout the UK. Visiting addresses throughout the UK, sometimes in crime-hit urban areas, carries with it an inherent risk of confrontation, which can escalate to verbal and physical abuse.

Fundamentally, should one of Capita’s front-line enquiry officers experience jeopardy, they are a single button-press away from summoning assistance - quickly and discreetly. Using a preconfigured button on their mobile phone, they can issue a duress signal, which instantly alerts Argyll’s 24/7 manned control room and simultaneously opens a voice channel enabling Operators to listen in. Trained Operators then put into effect an agreed incident management procedure and, if required, use existing links with the Police to ensure a swift response. Sophisticated voice recording ensures that every incident is captured and can be produced as evidence if required.

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 most members of the BSIA’s Lone Worker Steering Group and forms the basis for police response to lone worker systems.

The BSIA has also published two associated guides, which provide both employers and lone workers themselves with 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. It can be downloaded free by visiting, 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 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.”

About the Author
Alex Carmichael is technical director of the British Security Industry Association, the trade association covering all aspects of the professional security industry in the UK. BSIA members provide over 70 per cent of UK security products and services and adhere to strict quality standards. For more information see, email or telephone 0845 389 3889. To find out more about the BSIA and the work of its members (including the case studies mentioned in this article), or to find a reputable suppliers of lone worker devices, visit the Association’s website at