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Homing in on lone worker safety

July 25, 2024 by Chris Allcard

Social housing presents unique challenges when it comes to ensuring the safety of any lone workers performing essential tasks in these environments. Chris Allcard, lone worker services director at Reliance Protect, explains how the company’s cutting-edge personal safety technology can help.


Lone workers in social housing environments encompass a wide range of roles – from maintenance staff and repair technicians to housing officers, antisocial behaviour investigators, care workers, income management and recovery officers, and mental health support workers. These individuals often find themselves working alone in a variety of situations that are potentially dangerous.


Stress test


High staff turnover and recruitment difficulties are currently posing significant challenges in front line roles in the social housing sector. The demanding nature of this type of work often involves dealing with vulnerable populations and complex social issues. This can lead to burnout among employees, driving them to seek alternative employment.


As well as encountering verbal and physical violence and aggression on a daily basis, housing officers often have to deal directly with tenants that have mental health issues, which presents obvious health and safety concerns. Those looking to leave the sector are often overwhelmed and highly stressed due to a lack of support and training. To highlight the scale of the problem, research has found that nearly a third of housing organisations saw an increase in percentage each year in housing officer turnover between 2017 and 2022.


Just as significantly, when experienced employees leave their roles, it disrupts the continuity of service provision. This can also lead to delays in addressing critical safety issues, such as maintenance and repairs, which may compromise the wellbeing of vulnerable tenants.


Cause for alarm


The social housing sector was an early adopter of lone worker safety technology and many of those working in this area use it on a daily basis. Reliance Protect works extensively with social housing providers and have been providing lone worker safety solutions to social housing providers for upwards of 15 years.  When we look at our data, the risks faced by frontline staff are stark.  As a sector, social housing staff typically raise 15 times more genuine alarms when compared with users across all other sectors. Social housing provider users generate over 60% of the total genuine alarms we receive into our BS 5979 Category II alarm receiving centre (ARC).


Not surprisingly, we are well aware of the types of risks social housing workers face when carrying out their activities. For example, in an incident earlier this year two staff advised they were in a property where the tenant was smashing things up and kicking the door down to gain entrance to the room they were in. They were hiding in a cupboard. After activating their devices, the operator at the Reliance Protect ARC escalated the incident to the police via the lone worker URN for a Level 1 Police response and monitored the situation until help arrived.


All bases covered


Conducting a thorough risk assessment before entering a social housing environment is crucial and wearers of our lone worker safety devices are able to leave a short message through our update function to confirm location, the tasks they are about to undertake and identify any known risks. If an alarm is raised then the ARC operator will listen to it to gain as much context about the situation as possible.


Being able to quickly pinpoint the exact location of the wearer is a primary objective and with global positioning system (GPS) based technology time to first fix can take from seconds to minutes. It’s why we developed our dual location finding technology. Utilising both GPS and Wi-Fi – the former to identify a user’s location when they are outside and the latter when they are indoors – a first fix can be achieved more quickly with users swiftly and accurately located, wherever they are.


Case in point


This capability is utilised in our ID Ultra and Pulse+ personal safety devices, which can scan and read Wi-Fi networks and wireless access points, and send information into Google location servers, which then respond with a location. The more Wi-Fi networks and access points a device can see, the better its location tracking. In urban environments it is far more effective than GPS alone – sending a Wi-Fi position within 30 seconds of an alarm.


Every device and app user can also raise a discrete red alert. This will be monitored by a Reliance Protect operator and, if necessary, escalated to emergency services. Furthermore, a man-down feature incorporates advanced sensors and technology to detect unusual movements, or the absence of movement. When a man-down event is detected, the device automatically triggers an alarm, enabling a rapid response.


There is also a growing trend for those working in social housing environments to wear body worn cameras. The key motivation behind this is the preventive influence of these cameras, as individuals tend to exhibit less aggressive behaviour when they are aware of being recorded. When dealing with someone engaged in antisocial conduct, individuals wearing these cameras can notify them of the recording process and explain the potential uses of the evidence. In most instances, this approach is sufficient to de-escalate the situation. However, if a confrontation intensifies, the recorded footage serves as impartial evidence to substantiate the wearer’s account of events.


Joined up thinking


The issues surrounding staff recruitment and retention in the social housing sector are obviously a cause for concern. Given that frontline personnel often find themselves in situations where their welfare is jeopardised, the use of cutting edge lone worker safety technology makes complete sense. As well as keeping them safe, morale and productivity can also be improved when lone workers realise that the company they work for values them by taking their health, safety and wellbeing seriously.