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Protecting local government workers.

Rocksure Systems : 16 April, 2007  (Technical Article)
Martin Rogers of Rocksure Systems discusses the need for lone worker protection in local public sector organisations.
By their very nature, the range of services offered by local government brings council employees into contact with the whole spectrum of members of the local community. For local government employers, ensuring that their workers are safe and secure is a major moral and legal concern.

An employer has responsibility for the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. These responsibilities cannot be transferred to people who work alone. The Health and Safety Executive says: "It is the employer's duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risk where necessary."

A lone worker should not be at more risk than any other employee and precautions should be put into place to account for normal work and foreseeable emergencies such as illness, accidents and workplace violence.

Employers should identify potential risk such as:.

* Does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker.
* Is there risk of violence and/or verbal abuse.
* Are women staff especially at risk.
* Can the lone worker summon help in the event of an emergency from illness, injury of immobilisation.

Local government employees have a unique risk profile not only because of the hazards of working within the local community but also because staff can often work alone, meeting the public face to face on a daily basis. Client meetings can often take place in high risk areas and not only can staff be faced with aggression, abuse or physical assault from the client, but also on their way to and from the place of work. In addition, local government personnel are often called upon to work irregular hours and visit areas where there are high levels of antisocial behaviour.

Lone workers by definition are more vulnerable to accident and aggression than most employees and therefore it is vitally important that their employers develop long-term strategies in order to protect their safety. Risk assessment should help decide the right level of supervision, training and protective equipment that needs to be employed.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) require employers to conduct a 'suitable and sufficient' assessment of the risks to which employees are subjected to whilst they are at work. Any employer who has either failed to recognise a foreseeable risk or address a significant potential risk is likely to have been negligent in failing to give proper consideration to the potential risks faced by employees.

The MHSW Regulations oblige an employer to assess the risks of employees and make arrangements for their health and safety. The risks covered should, "where appropriate, include the need to protect employees from exposure to reasonably foreseeable violence". The HSE estimates that it costs £17-19,000, on average, just to investigate a physical assault. It can take a lot less to prevent one.

* Using a mobile phone - in such a situation is often futile as it can be easily and quickly knocked to the ground. Similarly, if a lone worker is incapacitated and unable to reach a phone he will be unable to summon help.
Mobile phones neither protect nor provide a means of notifying an employer when a lone worker is in difficulty.
* Ringing into the office - if a worker is incapacitated he or she is not able to raise an alarm by ringing into the office nor can an employer locate their whereabouts. In addition, if a member of staff uses this method as a safety check for registering when they attend a viewing and then again when they leave it places undue responsibility on the recipient of the calls to note if the member of staff does not check back in. At what point does a company contact the emergency services - by the time the alarm is raised it could be too late. There is also the additional problem of out of hours viewing when the office is unattended.
* Issuing a device to females only - whilst women are more vulnerable to sexual assault, male employees face equal risk from verbal and physical abuse and injury.
* Doing nothing - compensation claims, gross negligence manslaughter and corporate manslaughter means that doing nothing is not an option.
* Verbal abuse is a part of the job and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Many local government organisations are now providing their lone workers with personal alarms (PAs) but these come in a variety of guises and prices. Such has been the number of PAs introduced to the market in the past few years that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has been reviewing its position on their use. In April 2006 it issued guidelines on the type of device that should be used and how the police will respond when alarms are activated.

False alarms are inevitable with PAs and therefore the security company monitoring the alarm must have the necessary infrastructure to be able to ascertain whether the alarm has been triggered accidentally. In fact to obtain police attendance, PA systems now require some additional indication that a criminal offence is in progress. One means of achieving this is by using devices with a facility that enables the security centre to listen into what is happening and assess whether or not the PA user is facing a possible assault.

Peoplesafe is equipped with a covert emergency button that discretely activates the alarm, which opens up a voice call to a monitoring station whilst at the same time surreptitiously notifying the wearer that the alarm has been triggered and is active. A second concealed button enables the wearer to notify their employer when they know they are entering a potentially hazardous situation. This enables the worker to check-in and out of appointments and prevents a Susie Lamplugh situation occurring. As devices like Peoplesafe are equipped with GSM, the system has the ability to locate the individual in the event of an emergency.

As well as being able to raise and alarm and locate a member of staff in an emergency, verbal abuse can also be combated with this service. Upon pressing the emergency button, all calls are digitally recorded and can capture the evidence needed to prosecute against incidents of verbal abuse.

Finally, the ACPO state that the training and retraining of users should be incorporated into the maintenance of PAs. Companies like Rocksure Systems provide a total solutions package that includes the device, operator response, tracking, training, configuration with the most appropriate mobile network and ongoing support.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of utilising lone worker devices such as Peoplesafe is its ability to ensure that a company puts a lone worker safety emergency plan into operation for each member of staff. Such a procedure ensures that an organisation is able to respond quickly should an emergency arise.
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