How Smartphones Can Save Lives

How Smartphones Can Save Lives

A Lifeline for Remote Workers

When we think of a company’s workforce, we often envision an office building full of cubicles or a factory of workers. Today’s workforce, however, is often dispersed across multiple locations, driving a fleet of trucks, or traveling much of their workday. This mobility can create challenges with communication, particularly when there is an accident, an emergency, or an urgent event.

The United States isn’t the only country struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing workforce ecosystem. The United Kingdom is facing similar issues. Lone worker safety is a serious consideration. In 2015/2016, the country reported 43 fatal injuries to construction workers. A recent UK article highlights the concern of construction organizations with ensuring the health and safety of lone workers. “While prevention is the ultimate goal, there must also be tools in place to provide rapid help when accidents occur. This means providing a means of consistent, reliable communication with management, team members, and emergency services.”

Communication is always critical during an emergency. How well this happens is dependent on the technology the organization uses. If phone trees, email, and/or dispatchers are the go-to channels, many employees are still at risk. The flow of communication on these channels can be slow, delaying critical messaging and the help that is often required. No industry is immune and smartphones become a device that can save their lives.

Whether an accident happens at a construction site or a dangerous situation arises in the field where landlines and computers are absent, employees need to have the tools available to stay safe, get help, and keep connected. Smartphones are the obvious choice for communicating yet they can be equipped to do much more than send and receive phone calls.

Who Can Benefit?

Field technicians, field social workers, delivery personnel, and traveling salespeople are typically disconnected from a physical office. They are on the road and dependent on mobile devices to keep in touch. Dispatchers are often involved as the go-between. Manual calls are the status quo but these can be slow, particularly in  the field when workers are injured or may not have the immediate time to respond to a dispatcher’s call.

Using an emergency system alert app, both dispatchers and employees can send and receive real-time messages between each other and co-workers with the touch of a button. Many of the administrative tasks are automated, speeding up issue resolution and communication between employees and their companies and first responders.

A mass alert system can be integrated with existing internal applications so contacting workers is automatic, such as when there is impending danger of a weather-related event or an emergency where workers need critical information. Communication happens in real time and instantaneously, often without requiring the worker to complete multiple steps to communicate. When the life of a worker is in question, every saved step could mean a saved life.

Construction Tops the List of the Most Dangerous Jobs

OSHA reports that out of 4,386 fatalities in the private industry in 2014, 20.5 percent were in construction. It places these injuries in categories it refers to as “The Fatal Four.” The leading cause, by far, was falls. Nearly 40 percent of all deaths were related to falls. Electrocutions and being struck by an object each accounted for 8 percent, and being killed when “caught-in or compressed by an object” is responsible for the remaining 4 percent.

These construction jobs aren’t always related to what we typically think of when we think of construction. One of the most dangerous construction occupations with the highest injury rate are with elevator installers and repairers. These workers are in close proximity to electrical systems and improperly installed systems that put them at risk for being crushed.

OSHA says, “Eliminating The Fatal Four would save 545 workers’ lives in America every year.” There are many things a company can do to help prevent injuries, such as constructing proper scaffolding, but falls still happen. When they do, companies can leverage smartphone technology to ensure assistance is rapid. One such technology involves an accelerometer. A smartphone app can install an accelerometer that triggers an alert to a manager or colleague if the user falls. GPS directs responders to the exact location, ensuring workers get immediate help.

Social Work Presents Unpredictable Environments

Another sector that stands to benefit from such technology is social work. These government employees are usually alone, visiting multiple homes every day to check in on cases and investigate reports. Their lives are in constant danger in the hostile environments they enter.

In these situations, their mobile devices become their lifeline, yet making a call to their office or 9-1-1 isn’t always possible in an urgent situation. Technology now exists where social workers can use a mobile app that not only tracks their location, but includes a tether that is inserted to the audio jack of their smartphone that when disconnected, immediately calls for help. The GPS location services that are enabled on their smartphone directs emergency responders to their exact location. The best part is that you never have to unlock, search for the app, or push a button to call for law enforcement. You simply pull the tether from your smartphone and police will be on their way.

College Students Can Become Innocent Victims

College students aren’t remote employees but they are separated from their parents and can be walking on and around campus alone with only their mobile phones for security. They are often unaware of the danger that surrounds them yet at least one survey found that 43 percent of female college students believe their school is not doing enough to keep them safe.

In August 2016, a University of Texas student walking home from class at night was brutally assaulted and murdered by a homeless teen. While she wasn’t a lone worker, she fell victim to many of the same dangers. She was alone but had her cell phone. The tragedy occurred so quickly, she had no time to call for help.

College campuses across the country took notice and beefed up their security and lighting, and began offering safe rides home from evening classes and events. While these measures are helpful in many cases, not every location on campus or every student can be protected 24/7. The security tether mentioned above for social workers is an ideal safeguard for any student and a relief to parents who worry about their child’s safety while away at college.

Smartphones have completely changed the way we communicate, giving us access to each other and those we need most without regard to our location. Technology has evolved to leverage the connectivity in ways we never imagined even a decade ago. Our smartphones and the apps they present help us do more – faster than ever before. Federal agencies, private sector companies, and higher education institutions are investing in these mobile technologies to keep their people safe, help them interact in real time, and give them instant access to each other and help when it matters most.