Emergency health and safety: Be smart, make it mobile

Health and safety responsibilities in the workplace are hard to define as both remote working and business travel become increasingly common. Fulfilling a duty of care towards employees away from the office, whilst still maintaining their privacy and complying with regulations, is a challenge faced by businesses the world over.

Global businesses have procedures in place that protect employees when travelling abroad to remote or potentially dangerous countries. Unfortunately, recent terror attacks in the UK have brought these issues to our own doorstep. The challenge faced by multinationals now is how to ensure the safety and security of their workforce in the event of an emergency whether at home or abroad.

>See also: Can smart home devices and technology keep people safe?

Some reports estimate that around 6% of the UK workforce works from home, and a significant number will also commute to work through busy public stations. Services like Facebook’s safety-check have normalised the idea of confirming one’s safety to family and friends in the event of an emergency, but there is no immediacy or accountability with this feature.

Corporates need a robust, purpose-built service; software that can be scaled across a large workforce that employees can use to quickly confirm their safety, should an emergency situation arise.

A mobile solution for mobile workers

New innovations in health and safety are often rare, and trying to persuade companies to use a completely new form of technology to ensure the safety of their staff is difficult, as the technology must have proven reliability and privacy controls. However, many businesses already have trust in cutting edge satellite and location-based technology, which has been used for years by major banks, insurers, non-governmental organisations and oil companies, enabling these parties to look after their personnel in some of the most dangerous places on Earth.

The ideal system to alert staff to any potential emergency should make use of a smartphone’s general-purpose capabilities – encouraging privacy by design. Any system designed with this sentiment would include two-way multi-modal communications and notifications, guided user interactions, background network automations, location proximity, and when needed, precise location updates.

>See also: Digital technology is the ‘only way forward’ for NHS sustainability

What this means in practice is that in the case of an emergency, a business is able to draw a zone around the incident’s location on a map by using a system’s web application, which locates any members of staff who are in close proximity to the emergency. Staff members would then be alerted via an application on their smartphones and warned about the situation immediately. They will then be provided with ongoing support to help guide them to an area of safety via push notifications, SMS or email, or more personalised one-to-one chat support.

However, alongside adoption of this technology must come education – of both employers and staff – on the security and privacy aspects of the technology, in order to build and maintain mutual trust.

Privacy is paramount

Technologies that utilise tracking functions often have a mixed reception among employees, many of whom tend to resist the idea of corporate-imposed schemes. Whilst many of us are happy to share our location to receive a pizza or be picked up by a cab, sharing our location with an employer is a different proposition and can often lead to concerns about data protection and privacy infringements. This presents UK businesses with a problem: how to find a balance between duty of care and privacy.

>See also: Beyond personal data – is cybercrime a threat to health and safety?

To build and sustain employer/employee trust, technology must be unobtrusive, putting an individual’s privacy first. This can be achieved by using location-based technology which will only contact or share the location of an employee if they are in an area affected by an emergency. This kind of technology is benign in nature and is not designed to monitor the productivity of employees.

As with any location-aware software, privacy law must be considered. Today’s software and apps allow HR and IT departments to know employees’ locations during an emergency, but still comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Data Protection Bill, as well as with Section 2c of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, by verifying lone worker safety and fulfilling a duty of care to their teams.

Striking a balance

Trust is a large part of working morale. Employees want to feel their organisation takes its duty of care towards them seriously and is proactively seeking to improve how it communicates during crisis situations.

The recent events in Hawaii, where a false-alarm about an impending missile attack was broadcast across the island is a perfect example of how trust can erode in safety systems. There is clearly a need for technology that comes from a trusted source that the user is familiar with, but also provides far more than a mere blanket warning to all.

As emergencies such as terror attacks and natural disaster become more common in ‘safe’ environments, the need to introduce technology to prepare staff is obvious. The objective of an emergency communication system is to prepare employees for an emergency event, and then safely guide them through the next steps when one occurs. If employees do not trust the safety tool a business implements because of concerns over their privacy or its effectiveness, adoption rates will be low, and consequently so will preparedness.

>See also: Boosting workplace productivity starts at the desk

Tracking and check-ins, while effective in certain circumstances, are inappropriate communication methods for large organisations who operate in ‘safety by default’ areas, but still have a duty of care to their staff fully in mind.

A nuanced and purposeful approach, striking a balance between privacy and duty of care is key. A system that utilises ‘proximity broadcasts’ via unobtrusive mobile applications, that addresses privacy concerns through time and geographically limited notifications to employees is uniquely suited to safety-conscious organisations.

Locating multiple unaccounted-for colleagues in transit or working remotely in a large city is a new challenge for many, and no easy feat. By capitalising on all of our familiarity with our phones, businesses can fulfil their duty of care in a changing modern climate.


Sourced by Raymond Kenney, managing director at Track24

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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