For field service managers, the safety and security of remote workers has always been a high priority. Field service technicians work in remote locations (Arctic glaciers, anyone?), handling potentially dangerous equipment. As a result, they are more at risk of being harmed than their colleagues in the cozy confines of an office.
But whereas in the past the best a manager could hope for was a call to confirm that a technician arrived safely, now it is possible to follow employees in the field more closely with the mobile phones and other IoT-enabled devices in the modern technician’s toolkit. Service organizations are increasingly turning to a new breed of tracking and monitoring technologies to ensure their remote technicians remain safe.
Mobile Devices Double As Safety Trackers
One company working to provide a comprehensive in-the-field safety service is UK-based Peoplesafe. The company works with clients to select the the right mix of mobile devices and wearable technology for its workforce, then integrates its monitoring services to those devices, helping the client tackle tricky “lone worker” problems, namely safety — no matter how remote the employee’s location.
“We’re not a manufacturer, so we can pick and choose the most appropriate products [for each customer],” says Sam Roy, an executive at Peoplesafe. “There is a big range of tools on the market, from adapted smartphones to the apps that help them report the welfare of employees.”
A key feature of Peoplesafe’s service is movement detection. If a worker hasn’t taken a step for a pre-determined period of time, the system automatically triggers an alert that co-workers can act on instantly.
“[The tools] incorporate GPS tracking so teams will be able to locate you if you’er stuck and can’t reach a phone,” Roy says.
A Moral Responsibility?
Peoplesafe’s client base is varied, ranging from large construction companies to utility repair organizations, real estate associations and municipal housing associations. Peoplesafe consults with its clients to match the best devices and services for their needs.
For Roy, the real product Peoplesafe offers is peace of mind:
“It’s a holistic service that helps field service managers to relax a little. They know they can get help quickly if they need it. It’s a great benefit that they can look after staff proactively and not do it reactively.”
It’s also important, he says, that companies look beyond the letter of the law: “There is a baseline legal requirement for companies to look after their staff. It exists throughout the EU and in the US. But this service is for managers that want to go beyond the minimum level and offer more. It’s a good recruitment and retention tool.”
Patching the Safety Gaps
Grand Union Housing, which provides services to housing tenants in 10,000 properties across three English counties, recently upgraded its lone worker protection provision after a review of its old system uncovered serious gaps. The company had operated an “in and out” list and required workers to call in at the end of each day — not a system for an emergency.
A serious assault on an employee in 2012 focused the company’s search. After testing several solutions the business turned to Peoplesafe in 2013.
Each of Grand Union’s 140 front line staff were supplied with an Identicom 877 device. The device is worn around the neck and doubles as a staff identification badge. It is linked up to a call center and records the wearer’s location.
“We take the safety of our staff, many of whom work on their own, extremely seriously and have prioritized the roll-out of Peoplesafe technology across the whole group,” says Alan Humphreys, Grand Union Group CEO.
The benefits of the new system, according to Humphreys, include workers’ enhanced feeling of personal safety and feeling better looked after by their employer.
New Safety Frontiers
As technology gets smarter and more powerful, new opportunities are opening to track and protect field technicians remotely. Wearable alarms and sensors are just one method among many cutting-edge inventions.
As time goes on, these tools will get more sophisticated, cost-effective and easy to use, until the question will not be whether organizations incorporate this kind of technology into their networks — but which system and wearable devices they choose to use.