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The Problems with Manual Processes for Lone Working

Almost all companies have in place some kind of process to make sure they operate – and can demonstrate – a duty of care to their staff, especially their lone workers, to make sure they don’t fall foul of health and safety regulations. For a good majority of companies, these processes are manual, both on the monitoring side and the alerting and communications side, involving paper and people. In this third post in a series on manual processes for lone worker protection, we look at the problems that can beset this approach.

Here are 5 aspects of manual processes that threaten the safety of your people and your business.

Human Element

The one factor we can’t ignore with any manual processes is the human element. It’s inevitably the fatal flaw. Human nature is what it is: we make mistakes, we forget things and we make the wrong decisions. Lone workers may forget their phones or let them run out of battery, so that we can’t check in with them. We might miss people off the list when we’re doing a call round, or we might record a tick against the wrong lone worker and make a hash of the paperwork. We might forget to do one of the hourly calls, or we might be feeling tired and decide to skip this hour’s call. “Doesn’t matter, I’ll get them all the next time around.”

Everyone’s busy, especially line managers who must balance a host of different responsibilities pulling them in different directions. If regular check-ins with their team is one of their responsibilities and they get dragged into fire-fighting an urgent issue, then the check-in won’t get done. It gets pushed to the bottom of the pile until the manager can come up for air. In this type of situation, the process is broken and lone workers are at as much risk as if there was no process in place.

Time Factor

In a previous post, we talked about the processes for checking in with key staff. But what’s the process if there’s an emergency, one of them is in trouble, or there’s an incident? We hope that we never have to deal with this kind of situation, or perhaps very rarely, but we still need to have procedures in place to deal with them as quickly and as effectively as problem. The health of our lone worker, and perhaps ultimately our business, is at stake.

This is where the time factor is critically important. Our response needs to be as quick as possible. The trouble is, if we call around our lone workers at 10am, and all is good, but then something happens to one of them at 10:05, and they can’t activate an alarm, then it could be the guts of an hour before we know something’s wrong. A lot can happen in 55 minutes. In fact, a lot can happen in 5 minutes, if it’s a fall or a heart attack. Manual processes are seriously lacking in this time-dependent scenario.

Employee Morale

We all like to feel a valued member of any team. When we’re lone workers, however, especially those lone workers who work in situations that present a real challenge to their personal safety and health, we want more than to feel valued. We want to feel protected, that the company has our back, and that it has the mechanisms in place to respond quickly and effectively if we get into difficulties.

When a company has the bare minimum of processes and procedures in place to comply with health and safety legislation, it must be hard to maintain employee morale. Lone workers want to feel that their safety is not simply a box-ticking exercise. We know that, for example, a whiteboard check-in/check-out system smacks of tokenism. We know it’s nonsense. We might see it as a company-covering measure so that if there’s an incident then companies might be tempted to play the blame game.

False Economy

Many companies employ a security specialist whose sole responsibility is to call around the lone workers at agreed intervals, confirm they’re OK, escalate things if they’re not, record the fact, rinse and repeat. This is a natural thought process for companies: we need to make sure we’re covered here, let’s get someone in and do it for us, then we know we’re OK. We’d rather put a body on it and make it the security person’s job than make it a part of someone else’s job, when it might not get done properly.

This is a false economy. Time is money, and while paying a full-time security person 25-30K a year, for example, plus benefits, insurance, overheads and so on, might seem a cost-effective option, it’s considerably more expensive than having an automated system in place which takes care of the lone worker monitoring, alerting and communications 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can then re-deploy your security person in areas where they can add more value, where the human element is an advantage, rather than needless overkill.

Business Risk

The final problem with manual approaches to protecting your key staff is the financial problem. It’s the problem of business risk. Flaws, gaps and holes in your processes for monitoring your lone workers and responding to incidents expose you to potential fines, escalating insurance premiums and the trauma of dealing with the fallout from injured or deceased employees and their families. In a ‘worst case’ scenario, these damages to your business reputation can affect your ability to finance borrowings, order from suppliers, win customers, recruit and retain the right staff, and keep your business going.

We’ll touch more on the impact of manual process problems in a future post.

Talk to us about your manual processes for protecting your staff, and how you can improve them.

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