Interviews

Employee safety requirements

by Mark Rowe

A rise in employee safety requirements is leading to accelerated adoption of technology by firms, says Naz Dossa, pictured, CEO at the lone worker protection product company Peoplesafe.

While health and safety has been firmly in the spotlight over the past 18 months as a consequence of the pandemic, one of the areas that’s frequently overlooked in the employee safety debate is the rise in the number of lone workers. A combination of social distancing measures, hybrid working arrangements and shifting work patterns means that many more employees across the UK are now classed as lone workers, i.e. they work out of direct sight or earshot of colleagues, for either all or some of their working day. And with that position unlikely to change dramatically any time soon, employers must review their risk management strategies and ensure they are appropriately adhering to their duty of care under these new working arrangements.

We recently spoke with over 120 health and safety professionals to find out how they’ve handled an increasingly remote workforce during that period, and how they expect to tackle the ongoing challenges presented by new working practices. We consulted with a range of industries and discovered that, overwhelmingly, firms are prioritising their budget and focusing their future plans around smarter, more connected technology to manage changing working practices and mitigate risks.

Call for personal safety technology to be recategorised as PPE

Integration with systems, processes and a company’s safety culture is seen as critical to ensure a successful technology roll out. Many firms told us they already treat lone worker devices as PPE, and 78pc of respondents would like to see this categorisation adopted across their industry. This of course relies on senior buy-in and adoption, combined with a cultural focus on improving safety standards.

Smarter and more connected equipment, such as lone worker technology, is already being relied upon to fulfil multiple purposes, from boosting communication across an increasingly remote workforce and providing incident response and support to vulnerable workers during (and outside of) working hours. This technology also allows firms to gather trend data, helping organisations to anticipate risks and reduce incidents. When it comes to lone worker devices and apps, this marks a clear evolution in its use from a reactive tool used post-incident to one that can also help prevent and minimise incidents.

Dr Shaun Davis, global director of compliance and sustainability at Royal Mail explains how this works in real terms: “What we’re doing with our technology is via PDAs and we can use that data to map our risks better. We can look at where we’ve got particular addresses or particular areas [that are risky] and we can put risk mitigations and strategies around that.”

It’s clear that COVID-19 has not only created a rise in employee safety requirements but has also cast a spotlight on the increasingly crucial role technology has to play in making personal safety a primary concern. One of the interesting trends we uncovered is the eagerness of employers to extend worker protection beyond the shift. Increasingly, organisations are looking to provide ways to help protect employee safety during their commute or when walking to and from car parks. This is particularly prevalent where people are travelling at unsociable hours, when they may be more vulnerable. At Peoplesafe we’ve received a notable increase in enquiries of this nature at Peoplesafe and that’s backed up by the survey responses. As a direct result, we’re seeing more SOS apps become available, enabling a new group of employees – who may not be lone workers – to access emergency support if they need it.

Looking to the future

The momentum for smart PPE – or PPE&T (personal protective equipment and technology) – is clearly gathering pace. With just over half of those questioned expecting to see an increase in the use of smart PPE such as wearable tech or IoT devices within the next three years, the conversation surrounding effective use of technology is becoming increasingly urgent.

Of the professionals we spoke with, 71 per cent confirmed they had plans to invest in lone worker technology and smart PPE within the next one to three years, and I would expect that figure to rise in that time. Firms are starting to see technology as the surest way to safeguard employees, both from physical hazards as well as a way to safeguard mental wellbeing. Not only that, the value of data from that technology is starting to be recognised, enabling companies to drive more detailed and targeted safety strategies.

At Peoplesafe, we see first-hand the positive impact technology has on keeping workers safe as well as providing instantaneous support during any hazardous situation they may find themselves in. We fully support the call for the automatic integration of technology in PPE and the impact that move can have in enabling organisations to access much-needed safety budgets.

Download the full report here: PPE & Tech: The role of technology in protecting lone workers.

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