For many organisations, employees working from home is no new thing. But since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the immediate decision by the government to restrict travel and to work from home where possible, the typical office worker had to quickly adapt to working from home as best they can.
When lockdown restrictions were imposed, the normal health and safety checks and balances that would ordinarily take place to facilitate a person working from home were dispensed with, argues ANT Telecom, which supplies enterprise telecommunications tools including an automated incident manager.
Months in, employers need to make sure those that are working from home are doing so safely, and not doing anything that could impact their health in the short or long term.
It should not be overlooked that virtually everyone is now working alone, points out ANT Telecom. The risk to a home worker is fairly low, as are those risks when working in the office. But in the latter case, at least everyone is together in the office, and can react if someone falls ill suddenly. Although it is hoped that the individual would be able to use the house phone or a mobile phone to call for help, that may not always be possible.
While the home may not seem particularly dangerous, the most common industrial accidents are slips, trips and falls, including an estimated 250,000 non-fatal accidents on stairs that are serious enough to merit a trip to A&E each year. In an office-based environment, companies would have this covered:if employees didn’t turn up by their usual start time someone would take notice and raise the alarm. But with many employees now working from home, how would their colleagues know if they have hurt themselves and need assistance?
Earlier this year, HSE updated its lone worker guidance (available via www.is.gd/obukev). It says: “Lone workers face the same hazards at work as anyone else, but there is a greater risk of these hazards causing harm as they may not have anyone to help or support them if things go wrong. As an employer, you should provide training, supervision, monitoring and support for lone workers.”
One of the revised sections covers monitoring lone workers. It says that the extent of supervision should be dictated by a risk assessment. Means of keeping in touch with lone workers include periodic visits from supervisors, pre-agreed regular contact sessions or emergency alarms.
ANT Telecom suggests that companies might benefit from a solution that confirms that workers have at least started and ended their day safely. That way, if someone didn’t check in one morning, a process could start immediately to find out what had happened, rather than relying on someone internally raising the alarm or waiting until a member of the family returns that evening. Similarly, if someone fails to log out at the end of the day, an alarm can be triggered.
Alternatively, some organisations or users may feel more comfortable with regular check-ins during the working day. ANT Telecom says that its app-based solution enables the user to check in regularly using a method that is said to be easy to use and not onerous.
While the alarm triggering solutions are crucial for safeguarding, the process to resolve the incident is just as important, it advises. Users will not bother to use the system if they do not believe that their colleagues will help them when they need them most. That means treating the response to each alarm as a fundamental part of the process.Companies might set up their own response team structure. One might decide that it is better to have five or six responders that are responsible for all company employees; others may prefer to have specific responders, like a line manager and deputy, for each employee. In the case of home workers, the response team can include family members and neighbours too.
Once an alarm is raised, it can be communicated to the appropriate response team on their desktop, laptop or mobile phones, with the details of the home worker, and when it was activated. But if several responders are notified at the same time, it can difficult to know who is responding to the situation.
ANT Telecom advises that a single member of the response team must take ownership to resolve the incident, replying to the alert message accordingly and then attempting to contact the worker. This can involve coordinating with a family member or neighbour to gain access to the property, alerting the emergency services or otherwise escalating the situation as necessary.
The ANT Telecom system also keeps a record of the alerts that have been activated and resolved. With such records, businesses can review where improvements can be made in future and also demonstrate the processes in place to the HSE, should it ever be investigated – safeguarding not just their employees, but the company as a whole.
BOX: ANOTHER OFFERING
Service provider Peoplesafe offers a key fob-type device and a smartphone app for lone workers. Both can be used to raise an alarm that is routed to a call centre operator to assess the situation and send for help.
The key fob includes a SIM card linking to the 2G mobile data network that roams across providers, as well as WiFi, to try to achieve the greatest connectivity. Even so, CEO Naz Dossa admits that customers always seem to find scenarios that challenge that. In addition, the key fob includes an accelerometer to automatically alarm when it detects a shock load, such as what might be generated by a fall (although its sensitivity can be reduced for more clumsy employees). A GPS tracker linked to the ‘what3words’ locator app helps identify their location. It also includes geographical point tracking, which can trigger an alarm if a worker goes into a known danger spot, or monitor their length of time in there.
The workforce’s relationship with the service depends on how seriously their companies take it, argues Dossa. “What we say is that it is really important that users understand the importance of the service, and engaging with it,” he adds, who adds that it relies on a range of training services (that it offers) to help drive employee engagement.