Filed Under:Risk Management, Corporate Risk

Accidents happen: Here's how technology can help keep remote workers safe

Insurance adjusters, inspectors and other investigators frequently travel alone to inspect sites. Slipping off of a roof, falling through a floor or some other unexpected accident can leave them unable to phone for help. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Insurance adjusters, inspectors and other investigators frequently travel alone to inspect sites. Slipping off of a roof, falling through a floor or some other unexpected accident can leave them unable to phone for help. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Insurance agents and adjusters are often away from their desks attending to customer needs and inquiries in the field. While this is a required function of business, it also creates risks for employee safety.

Managing the security of mobile workforces is not unique to the insurance industry. According to IDC Research, 72% of the U.S. workforce is expected to comprise mobile workers by 2020. When employees are not operating in an office or controlled environment, it makes it more difficult for businesses to manage the risks those workers invariably encounter. Further, it becomes increasingly more difficult to know when a worker needs emergency assistance.

Organizations with employees that operate outside of traditional workplace settings have a need to develop safety protocols and invest in different technologies that secure the safety of mobile workers.

Related: Why artificial intelligence could become a P&C game-changer

field adjuster in a deserted building

Insurance adjusters and risk managers venture into dangerous and unique settings that pose a variety of risks to their personal safety. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Field safety

Typically, property insurance adjusters are some of the first on the scene after a natural disaster or personal property emergency. Conditions on the ground are often less than ideal. Damaged structures, flood waters, violent weather, can all threaten the safety of adjusters as they work to help customers file claims.

While proper training in safety procedures remains crucial, providing mobile workers with the right tools to request and receive help in an emergency situation is critical. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 95% of Americans now own some type of cell phone and more than one-third own a smartphone. While these devices provide many conveniences, in emergency situations they remain highly limited, especially in environments that have poor reception or that limit a user’s ability to reach and operate the device.

For example, a cell phone is not able to detect if someone slipped and fell, was trapped by falling debris, or experienced one of the thousands of other emergencies that can occur on the job. With a cell phone the user is still required to be conscious and within range of the phone to be able to make a call for help.

In the case of mobile workers and lone workers, cell phones are not the most reliable or function-rich options for tracking and monitoring employee safety and health. Additionally, in the case where a lone worker is confronted by a hostile third party, the cell phone is the first item often taken so as to prevent a call for help.

Related: 5 things to do to keep employees safe while cleaning up after a hurricane

monitoring technology to identify a person in distress

 

A mobile personal emergency response system allows a worker in distress to activate it by simply pushing a button. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Monitoring technology

In emergency situations there is a better solution than traditional cell phones or smartphones. These situations are good candidates for easily worn devices (i.e., wearables or wearable devices) that automatically report changes that could indicate an emergency. Or, a device that a worker could easily utilize to express the need for help without having to speak or move much.

Already there are products like smart hard hats, smart safety vests, smart eyewear and even stick-on patches that can monitor everything from an employee’s location to body temperature and positioning. These devices eliminate the need for a worker to proactively report an emergency, but like cell phones they have some limitations.

For example, while the devices are able to transmit certain information about a situation to a manager or human resources department, they do not create a direct line of communication between the worker and responder. If verbal communication is possible in the emergency situation, the worker would still need to place a call on a phone.

Another option could be Mobile Personal Emergency Response System (mPERS) devices similar to those used by seniors for years. Essentially, a help button that can be pressed after a fall to alert emergency responders that assistance is needed. These types of technologies have become more beneficial because they no longer require a base station device to place calls, limiting their range of use.

Like other wearables, mPERS devices are small and lightweight. They provide state-of-the-art location technologies, and also offer built-in fall advisory capabilities. Wearables with this type of functionality are able to detect horizontal and vertical movement. But, they take safety a step further than simply reporting a fall on the job via a text message or red flag in a software system. These devices can also eliminate the need for the worker to initiate a call for help, since they can trigger one automatically. And cloud-based technologies make it possible for central stations to immediately respond to the call for help. 

These devices have a longer battery life because unlike phones that sometimes have to be charged multiple times a day, mPERS devices have fewer functions and do not need to be fully functional at all times. They can be left off or essentially in a hibernation mode until the SOS button on the device is pressed. Once this action occurs, location information can be sent to a central reporting destination and an emergency call can be placed. This enables the devices to run on a single charge between two and 30 days, depending upon the configuration and use of the device.

Whatever wearable device makes the most sense for a particular company, the most important factor is that business owners and managers take advantage of these new technologies that could save lives and improve the safety and health of their lone worker and mobile employees.

Chris Holbert (chris@securatrac.com) is the CEO SecuraTrac.

Related: Catastrophe safety 101

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