Utility Week

UTILITY Week 21st March 2014

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24 | 21st - 27th March 2014 | UtILItY WEEK Operations & Assets Market view I t is a commonly held view that nothing works in isolation. But the estimated six million people in the UK classified as lone workers may well disagree. They are expected to do it every day. With a sizeable chunk of the UK work- force required to operate alone in remote geographies and high-risk environments, employees increasingly work in isolation. But, despite the obvious challenges of haz- ardous conditions, unsociable hours and oen poor mobile coverage, some organisa- tions' support for vulnerable lone workers is sub-optimal. Lone working has a particular resonance in manufacturing arenas such as energy, oil and gas, chemical plants and distilleries. In these disparate environments, employees are oen required to work on-site at the isolated extremes of production plants, or off-site in the seclusion of the field. Yet while physi- cally they may appear cut off from the rest of the world, companies cannot afford for lone workers to be disconnected from the rest of the workforce. They must be available any time, any place and anywhere. There is no specific legislation that gov- erns lone working. Legislation outlines basic provisions (the most pertinent being the need to provide equipment and procedures to control the risks of lone working), but in the main, companies' processes to support mobile working do little to reflect the trans- formation that has occurred in information technology. Many still adopt primitive check-in pro- cedures where lone workers telephone base at agreed intervals to report their wherea- bouts. Conversely, some companies deploy a "buddy-up" system where remote workers operate in pairs to safeguard against delays and mitigate the risk of unreported inci- dents. In practice, these methods are flawed and inefficient, and in emergency situations where speed of response is critical they are also potentially life-threatening. Organisations are increasingly deploying lone worker solutions to improve visibility and contact with their mobile workforce. The breadth of these tools is considerable. Solutions can provide positioning informa- tion to help users locate lone workers, alarm systems for when employees find themselves in dangerous situations, and no-motion sen- sors to provide alerts when a lone worker may be injured or unconscious. For workers operating in explosive atmos- pheres containing gas and dust, intrinsically safe handsets are available to minimise the risk of unwanted electrical ignition. And since the technologies to support mobile working have proliferated to include GSM, DECT/IP, WiFi and private mobile radio, companies can now reach lone workers regard- less of geography, terrain or mobile blackspots. As a result, they can tailor their solutions. The goal of maintaining unin- terrupted connectivity is easily achievable. Lone worker systems are a sensible attempt to provide round-the-clock protection for remote workers, but, perhaps aptly, on their own they are not enough. The cure for isolation is integration. Too oen, lone worker solutions are com- missioned in isolation from an organisation's broader communications strategy. As such, they lack interoperability and connectivity. In reality, standalone systems are a self-ful- filling prophecy: they stand alone. Without integration into a company's unified commu- nications network, lone worker solutions are as isolated as the workers they are designed to protect. Companies' continued reliance on "island solutions" means many are missing out on the far-reaching value of integrated com- munications – and the benefits go beyond health and safety compliance. By stitching lone worker provisions into the fabric of com- pany-wide communications, organisations can drive operational and commercial gains. Unified communications offer econo- mies of scale. Rather than buying disparate systems, companies can exploit existing infrastructure and significantly reduce the speed and cost of implementation. Opera- tionally, fully integrated solutions can help plant managers become more responsive to problems in the production line, thus improving organisational slickness. Geo- locational asset tracking technologies can empower managers with increased staff visibility and enhanced perfor- mance metrics, improving resource management and driving productivity. So how do you get there? Organisa- tions seeking to improve connectivity with their mobile workforce should look at the bigger picture. Lone work- ing is just one piece of a bigger com- munications jigsaw, and the puzzle is unlikely to be completed by the patchwork procurement of individual solutions. The best approach is to assemble a cross-functional team of stakehold- ers from across your organisation and examine your business's diverse communications needs. The consid- erations are simple but the answers are company specific. How do employees communicate? How could that be improved? In which areas could people be at risk, and how can those risks be alleviated? Where could functionality be enhanced to bolster health and safety compliance or drive opera- tional gains? Once you have identified the challenges, how do you tailor a system and implement actions to drive meaningful change? The most effective plans are oen developed in partnership with independent specialists that can design customised unified commu- nications strategies, and adapt them in line with changing market dynamics. With human and commercial risks at the heart of the discussion, an integrated approach is key. It is only through a full examination of your entire communications infrastructure that you can develop a system that keeps your people safe and your busi- ness productive. Klaus Allion, managing director, ANT Telecom Integrating lone workers Providing lone workers with modern, integrated communications systems not only improves safety but drives operational and commercial benefits too, says Klaus Allion. Lone worker solutions can be as isolated as the workers they are designed to protect

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