Modern digital two-way radio system can not only boost operational productivity, but they also provide a wealth of safety features to protect lone workers, as Hytera Communications UK explain
Many organisations operate with a much reduced workforce compared with the past thanks to advances in technology and increased automation. As a result of this trend, more employees now work alone and often in remote areas. This can potentially put employees into a more vulnerable position should they run into trouble or sustain an injury in the workplace.
UK Health & Safety at Work legislation places a duty of care on employers to protect their workforce and this applies all the more to lone workers. Employers put their employees at risk of injury or fatality if they fail to equip them with the appropriate technology. Employers need to know immediately if someone suffers an injury and be able to swiftly locate where they are.
The minimum response to this obligation is to issue lone workers with a communications device. The device should enable them to keep in regular touch with managers and colleagues, alert control if there is a problem or if they meet with an accident – and enable them to take part in a coordinated response to any incident on site.
The question every employer should ask therefore is: are the communication devices fit for purpose? In 2017, two-way radio specialist Hytera Communications UK decided to find out by undertaking surveys in conjunction with Health and Safety at Work magazine and Facilities Management Journal. The results were somewhat alarming.
Nearly 82% of participants in the Health and Safety at Work magazine survey said they relied on mobile phones as their main communication system in the field, despite admitting that mobile phones were not a solution best suited to ensuring worker safety. Reasons cited for this included unreliable mobile coverage, the fact that mobiles can be a potential distraction for workers and that phone contracts placed an unnecessary additional cost burden on the business.
Just 42% of organisations said they used two-way radios, of which under one-third (31.4%) provided employees with Lone Worker technology, either via the two-way radio or a separate device. Even more startling, one-in-five businesses admitted to having no safety-critical communications at all. Of those, 95% work in potentially hazardous conditions, such as in the oil & gas, construction and manufacturing industries.
The Facilities Management Journal survey of 150 facilities managers revealed that those business that did have two-way radios were failing to exploit their full potential, especially the in-built health and safety features. Many respondents said that their existing radio systems suffer from coverage issues, poor audio performance, poor battery life and not enough capacity, thereby limiting their effectiveness.
This means that employees are at risk of being unable to communicate and operate efficiently during their day-to-day work and, even more worrying, during an emergency situation. Almost 87% of the facilities management companies surveyed said they were also using mobile phones. However, 56% admitted that some employees may be working in remote on-site locations with limited mobile coverage.
The FM survey respondents clearly expressed a wish to have their communications solutions upgraded. Some 31% cited cost as an obstacle and yet having both two-way radios and mobile phones places an unnecessary strain on budgets, while still failing to solve the communication issues.
So, to justify the investment facilities managers need to build a business case that clearly demonstrates the value for money a two-way radio system provides, while making clear the risks of not upgrading communications systems. Not doing so, risks injuries to workers or even fatalities.
The cost of tribunals and compensation due to negligence and failure to meet Health & Safety regulations alone ought to give managers pause for thought. Mobile phones offer many benefits, but they lack the instant push-to-talk voice communications, group calling, priority and emergency calls and and the built-in safety features that professional mobile radio (PMR) systems such as Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) offer.
These safety features provide employees with added protection by automatically sending alerts if the individual does not respond to an inquiry within an allotted time (Lone Worker alert), or if the radio tilts beyond a certain angle should the user fall over or become incapacitated (Man Down alert). Most modern radios have as a minimum an emergency button that sends an alarm when pressed, but the FM survey revealed just 29% had this feature.
Benefits of GPS
The survey also highlighted a lack of awareness of the benefits of GPS tracking, which is available on the latest DMR devices. The ability to track a worker’s whereabouts can be of vital importance. The radio’s GPS can send a worker’s location to controllers to help locate the individual quickly, whilst also alerting other team members. GPS can also be used to set up geo-fenced areas. Alerts can be automatically sent by the radio if a worker enters a geo-fenced restricted or hazardous area.
In short, radios should not just been seen as a traditional push-to-talk device. They should also be seen as a complete health and safety toolkit designed to protect employees, especially lone workers. Radios should not be seen as a luxury, but a necessity that does away with the need for other devices.
Quite apart from their effectiveness as a health and safety toolkit, two-way radio systems provide a reliable way to communicate during normal working operations. Key groups of workers can all be contacted and messages communicated in a single group call, rather than having to contact each employee individually. Radios are a productivity enhancing device.
In addition, private PMR systems have the advantage over other public and cellular mobile systems as they can provide the required coverage and capacity exactly where it is needed, unlike mobile phone networks, as well as providing tailored levels of network security, availability, resilience and redundancy. For large, dispersed sites, repeaters can be installed to extend the radio signals across a wider area.
DMR Tier III trunking networks can also be interconnected with PBX telephony systems and cellular mobile networks enabling voice traffic (and messaging) with non-radio users on their smartphones via a push-to-talk app. PMR radios can also be linked up directly with building alarms, systems and security gates.
It is these kinds of features that need to be built into the business case for installing or upgrading two-way radio systems, so that a wide range of applications are utilised and the best return on investment is delivered. Why pay additional monthly mobile phone bills and have to support a fleet of secondary communication devices, when upgrading the radio system would eliminate that cost with a one device?
For facilities managers, the first step is to get an authorised radio dealer to undertake a coverage survey to identify black spots and to evaluate the existing technology – usually an old analogue conventional radio system. Switching to a modern digital radio system, such as DMR often solves the problem, although better antenna design and improved location of repeaters (if there are any) will also help.
The next step is to educate users about the wealth of safety features on modern DMR radios and train them in their use. DMR systems from Hytera provide a louder and clearer sound quality thanks to digital audio and noise cancelling technology, as well as a long lasting battery life (up to 40% better than analogue), increased capacity and improved coverage.
DMR terminals are also much more rugged and robust than most cellular mobile phones. They provide far greater protection against dust and water intrusion and vibration and shock (drop resistance). This means the radio terminal is likely to last a lot longer than a smartphone and is able to operate in harsh environments.
Two-way radios provide an excellent solution for lone worker protection providing the radio system is properly specified to meet the coverage and capacity requirements and handsets are equipped with the appropriate features. Hytera DMR solutions and radios provide a long lasting and cost effective solution.