BS8484 was deliberately produced early on in the development of the Lone Worker market with the intention of imposing controls on false alarm rates from an early stage.
While this has been shown to be a real benefit, with a very low rate of false alarms and therefore a high level of police support, it can expose other problems which were not foreseen with little market experience. One of these is the name ‘Lone Worker’.
While the name did not get a mention in Health & Safety legislation it is there that we find its roots. The HSE were using the term at an early stage and it served its purpose well by highlighting the vulnerability of a specific employment group which signalled the birth of the Lone Worker market.
The Police were clearly going to be a most significant element in the market, as the primary response service, and they liked the name for two reasons:
- Restricting it to employees only gave a degree of built-in control against false alarms because;
- There was a mechanism to control bad practice and therefore reduce false alarms
- Services would only be purchased and used in response to a specific threat identified through a formal risk assessment process
- There would be training – both on using the device/service and on the avoidance and management of potentially dangerous situations
- The term Lone Worker effectively excludes ‘consumers’ who are by definition beyond organisational control and who would probably purchase such devices and services for more general and unspecified risk to elderly relatives and young children or teenagers. The fear was that without the discipline of the corporate environment, including training and control over their use, many more false alarms would be created.
However, while the term has been instrumental in mobilising the market it also confuses many who are not familiar with it. It does not immediately conjure up an image of many of those vulnerable people to whom it in fact applies. To the initiated it implies someone whose job is essentially solitary and risky because there are no other people around them; perhaps a distant figure toiling in the field vulnerable to accident or sudden illness. Not many organisations have such people so why should they be interested?
While this remains a possible use the most likely situations are those where there is a threat because they are not alone; that there are one or more others present who could represent a threat to them. The term ‘Lone’ therefore has come to mean someone who is not actually alone but is ‘Lone’ in the sense of having no co-workers to come to their immediate aid if required.
Also, as various organisations have discovered the flexibility of such services and how they could be applied to all sorts of people and situations, so the term Lone Worker has become further muddled.
For example several police forces that have responsibility for the protection of high risk domestic violence victims use Lone Worker services to allow them to call for help if they need to. By no stretch of the imagination can such people be described as Lone Workers yet Lone Worker services have, in such circumstances, saved lives, saved serious injury and put violent offenders behind bars. While they are not Lone Workers these are certainly ‘vulnerable people’ and perhaps this would be a more accurate description?
They are also clearly at risk and maybe this would be an even better description – ‘People at Risk’? It has the clear advantage of relating to risk which would perhaps focus people on that key word as an essential precursor to buying.
Words with imprecise meanings create false images in people’s minds. It is quite possible that the images conjured up by the term ‘Lone Worker’ in the minds of those hearing it for the first time, without the benefit of a full explanation, are something of
It is also quite possible, even probable, that this lack of precision has contributed to confusion and consequent slow development in the market.
If this is so it will, more importantly, have failed to reduce vulnerability for some ‘People at Risk’.
Do we need to think again about the name?