Exclusive: Taking a ‘people first’ approach to protecting assets

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Lloyd Spindler, Global Segment Manager – Enterprise at Ascom explains how prioritising lone workers can help you meet security and operational objectives.

Estimates suggest that by 2022 the number of protection solutions on the market for lone workers will reach over 260 million, by which point around 1.1 million workers will be utilising them.

Why the surge? Ever-more stringent regulatory demands are a clear factor. It is also a matter of ‘supply and demand’. Once primarily associated with security patrols or industrial, manufacturing and multi-site settings, the term ‘lone worker’ has come to reflect staff mobility in more general terms. Anyone whose job involves being out of sight and earshot is a lone worker and as such, vulnerable.

Jeopardising the safety of staff by failing to adequately address this issue is not an option for any reputable organisation, hence the predicted growth in protection services. What’s less obvious, however, is that adopting stringent personal security measures also gives organisations a significant opportunity to enhance the security and operational efficiency of their sites and assets.

How? First, let’s look at what’s needed to keep modern lone workers safe.

Real-time safety – An opportunity to improve situational awareness

A warehouse worker checking stock packed and stacked for pick up. A security guard patrolling the grounds of a high security facility. A field engineer for a power distribution company completing site checks. A hotel cleaner servicing rooms before fresh check-ins. Four very different people. One common challenge for their employers. How to check they are OK (and stay that way) in real time?

The ‘real time’ point is crucial here. Lone worker safety has historically relied heavily on manual check ins at set times. In many workplaces it still does. But this means that red flags may be raised too late. A worker under attack, duress or suffering from injury/illness may not get the help they need to make a critical difference. Workers need to be able to immediately share information.

Similarly, lone workers aren’t truly safe unless they can receive vital data in real time. This could be on a fire, a gas leak, potentially hazardous equipment failure, an intruder on premises, or perhaps unauthorised access to a controlled staff-only area. Workers need to be in the know so that they can make the right decision, take appropriate action and stay safe.

The answer to all this is improved communication, in particular an integrated communication and alert system that supports real-time monitoring of staff status and location as well as real- time risk notification and alert escalation.

Such a system presents the right data at the right time to the right people – whether they are “in the field”, control room or in a dedicated alarm receiving centre (ARC) – by integrating with and enabling interoperating between:

  • Body-worn ID, safety and positioning technologies and/or consolidated devices that unify key comms and safety functionality; for example, Enterprise grade DECT/Wifi/GSM handsets that combine telephony and messaging with man-down detection, push-button personal alarms and Bluetooth, infrared or GPS location capabilities.
  • Security systems including access control (and associated ID systems, biometrics, facial recognition etc.), perimeter detection, intruder detection and surveillance.
  • Safety alarm (and pre-alarm) systems such as smoke, fire, chemical or gas detection but also, with an increasingly mobile workforce, technologies such as vehicle telemetrics (e.g. for fleet delivery vehicles).
  • Other mission-critical sensors and process monitoring systems.

A solution like this means that every worker knows the right help will be sent to their exact location should they need it, because their employer is aware of their status and position. Lone workers will be automatically notified of risk events and any required actions, whether that instruction is to evacuate an area or (e.g. through integration with proximity solutions) to attend a colleague in need. The result is a happier, more productive workforce and often, as a result, vastly lower staff turnover figures.

What’s more – and this is something we know from our own experience with customers, irrespective of whether we’ve provided the mobile devices, management software and applications, or a full end-to-end solution – organisations that focus on safety in this way benefit far more broadly. Why? Because they are aware of situations the moment they develop and can unlock their company’s capability to respond immediately.

lone workers
Lloyd Spindler

Better security, better processes, leaner operations  

At any point, employers can track and manage their workforce via dashboards showing location, health status, skillset and task completion data. A full audit log of calls, messaging and alert notifications sent/received is also always available – supporting vital two-way communication of security risks, safety threats and operational issues.

What kind of scenario would this technology support? Here are some examples:

Immediate and automated dispatch of nearest appropriately trained staff in response to data showing anomalous process e.g. if set performance/safety parameters breached. This could be anything from a mechanical fault or slower than usual production output, to a high pressure/temperature reading. As well as guaranteeing worker safety, this also avoids costs downtime through preventative maintenance etc.

Alarm verification e.g. nearest available security or safety team member receives images, video, data relating to alarm to verify the incident. This avoids wasting time on false alarms while also supporting efficient incident escalation if required for the security and protection of both people and assets.

Data-led guidance for emergency responders, including external emergency services  e.g. location data, video footage and audio from body-worn handsets.

Automated staff evacuation, area lockdowns (through access control integrations) or staff dispatch in response to lone-worker-reported or centrally-detected security, safety and/or operational issues.

Real-time team communication – across a single site or multiple sites – of task completion, new assignments and additional tasks. Live communication of this nature ensures all personnel are aware of anything that could affect their safety, while also eliminating costly duplication of effort and/or wasteful return-to-base for new briefings.

Let’s be open about this

This range of examples suggests complicated technical requirements or perhaps a logistical headache in terms of third-party vendor compatibility. This is not the case.

Recognising the growing demand for this type of operational framework, leading vendors of enterprise level mobile handsets, security solutions, sensors and process monitoring devices etc. all aim to support two things. Connectivity (indeed, many standard infrastructure fixtures, fittings and devices now have Bluetooth location services embedded as well as being IoT enabled) and open integration. The use of proprietary technology is waning as it simply creates undesirable operational silos for businesses.

The other part of the puzzle is of course the software, which makes effective monitoring and management possible.

Here again, open architecture is essential as it delivers a greater degree of flexibility and avoids a ‘rip out and replace’ scenario. In other words, if your software is device and database agnostic, it can grow and adapt to meet your requirements, rather than dictating the separate individual hardware systems and devices you might need.

With these ingredients, a framework that addresses modern safety concerns, security needs and efficiency demands is both possible and practical. The people in your organisation are its most valuable assets. Putting them first is the right thing to do. It also makes sound business sense.


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