Mobile Solutions for Workers' Well-Being

By  Jessica Binns — May 05, 2011

Mobility is a great thing, no doubt—smartphones keep remote workers connected while on the move—but sometimes that constant connectedness can be a downfall.

Last year, the National Safety Council found that drivers who were texting or talking on a mobile phone contributed to 28% of all U.S. traffic accidents.

For enterprises with considerable numbers of road warriors, the implications are significant. Not only does an employee texting behind the wheel risk personal injury and harm to others on the road, but he also places the company in jeopardy, since many enterprises are liable for the actions of a worker who is on the clock.

There’s good news, though, for those who simply cannot disconnect from their mobile devices. Robust, enterprise-grade solutions can help to mitigate  risky behaviors and lock down users’ devices. In addition, safety is top-of-mind for companies whose employees toil away in remote or hazardous environments, but now there’s a phone that is smart enough to detect when its user may be injured or incapacitated and signal for help.

No company ever wants to find one of its workers in such a life-threatening situation, but it’s important to have a solution in place when your worst-case scenario becomes a life-or-death reality.

Driven to distraction

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, eight states ban handheld phone use while driving, and 30 states and Washington D.C. ban texting and driving.

ZoomSafer, a provider of safe driving solutions, aims to help drivers comply with such state regulations. Compatible with BlackBerry smartphones and currently in beta with Android devices, ZoomSafer’s solution mines a mash-up of data from vehicle telematics systems and wireless carrier billing records.

Cliff Gaunya, IT manager for Coleman Oil, a provider of petroleum products, says his company maintains 25 vehicles and has been using ZoomSafer since December 2010.

“There are laws coming out requiring vehicles to not be using phones in HAZMAT situations. We decided to get ahead of the game and take control from the drivers,” he says.

The company chose to have the ZoomSafer client installed on drivers’ BlackBerry Curve smartphones; policies are pushed through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Gaunya manages the service via the Web.

Coleman Oil’s drivers are unable to override any of ZoomSafer’s functionalities, and the system is set up to end a call if the driver’s vehicle is moving at more than 15 miles per hour. The company encourages drivers to proactively exit out of a call when traveling at less than 15 miles per hour. “It’s an awareness thing for them,” says Gaunya.

Before deploying ZoomSafer, Coleman Oil already had controls in mind. “I wanted the ability for the software to ‘unload’ and to go back into phone mode after the driver stopped his vehicle, but we realized that at a long stoplight, the phone would ‘unload’ and become functional again. We didn’t want that,” explains Gaunya.

Coleman Oil’s drivers are warming to the idea. “The drivers understand that it’s for the good of the company and the good of society,” Gaunya says.

“When the new laws take effect, if they get caught texting or talking on the phone, it would put a damper on their career—they could lose their license for a year.”

Man down

On April 6, 2008, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was passed in the U.K., making it possible for companies to be held criminally responsible for the deaths of employees who were not sufficiently protected while working in perilous conditions. The act, while controversial, created a market around employee safety, says Sanjay Jhawar, vice president of marketing and business development for Sonim Technologies, a provider of rugged mobile communication solutions.

Sonim’s XP3 Sentinel phone—dubbed the Lone Worker solution—is a rugged IP 68-rated GSM handset designed specifically for employees who work alone and in hazardous environments.

The device offers up to 24 hours of talk time and 800 hours of standby time. It enables 26 hours of GPS tracking time, with tracking signals transmitted every 5 minutes.

The Dutch branch of Securitas, the world’s largest security organization, deployed 250 Sentinel devices in December.

The Sentinel phone features three customizable buttons in red, amber, and green that communicate the user’s status. Securitas programmed the red key to signal a man-down situation, says Guido Krauss, IT project manager, mobile division, Securitas Netherlands.

For Securitas, pressing the green key means “I’m still okay.” The amber key signals “I have a security situation,” which is not a personal emergency, per se, but means the employee is responding to some sort of scenario, such a suspicious vehicle or a broken window, explains Jhawar. If headquarters doesn’t receive “life signals” every 15 minutes, a message is sent to the worker’s device asking if he or she is okay.

The Sentinel’s accelerometer can detect a fall or sudden significant drop. Such a fall would trigger the man-down alarm, and if the device detects no movement for two minutes following the acceleration, and the guard doesn’t manually cancel the alarm, the Sentinel sends GPS coordinates to headquarters at regular intervals.  

As a result of deploying Sentinel phones, Securitas was able to decrease its corporate liability and trim the turnaround time for broken devices from six weeks to five days.

Since deploying the Lone Worker solution, there has been one man-down incident. A security guard was walking through a garden on his regular patrol in a residential neighborhood at night—and fell into a pool. The phone detected the fall and sent an alarm to headquarters. In that situation, all’s well that ends well. “He was wet but okay,” says Krauss. 


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