Lone Worker Safety Services: how effective are they?
When buying a lone worker service how can I be sure that the supplier has the most effective access to the Police?
Lone Worker Safety Services provide an increasingly common way to raise an alarm indicating that an individual in a work setting may require help in an emergency or other assistance. This article looks at the advantages of contracting lone worker services from a supplier certified to BS 8484 with an authoritative response to alert activation scenarios.
The BSIA spoke with Ken Meanwell, lead on Security Systems Policy at the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), and Roger Vickers, Performance and Compliance Director at Peoplesafe, one the of the BSIA lone worker section members who are certificated by the NSI to a Gold Standard to BS 8484.
BSIA: Roger, the market seems awash with various suppliers advertising lone worker services, so how do I choose one?
Some lone worker device suppliers are limited to offering only one or a very limited number of device products. Others seek to provide a bespoke service that starts with risk assessment to identify the most appropriate device product for various roles within the client company. Some talk about parts of their system being ‘BS 8484 compliant’ but do not have a certificate to substantiate their claims. Contacting a member of the BSIA Lone Worker Group is a good place to start. These are well-established suppliers and members of the British Security Industry Association’s (BSIA) Lone Worker Section. They have been audited for compliance with relevant British Standards and certified as such.
BSIA: Ken, the Police are an important part of the process, so how does it work? What are the advantages of choosing one of these companies?
Lone worker suppliers demonstrating compliance with British Standards use Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) which have to meet stringent requirements around physical security of buildings, staff security vetting and meet call handling response times, all to British and European Standards. The ARC must operate 24/7 and in the event of a catastrophic event, it must be able to quickly reinstate services. The NPCC Security Systems Policy permits these accredited ARCs to be granted a Unique Reference Number (URN) by each UK police force. A trained and certified ARC operator listens in to audio, if safe speaks to the user and then considers this, alongside other information available within the ARC, to determine whether requesting a level 1 response is appropriate. The URN number is quoted when an ARC contacts a police force and these calls are prioritised as Level 1 Emergency calls. Careful use of the URN system reduces false alarms and ensures its credibility with responding police officers.
BSIA: Ken, does the use of a URN provide a guarantee that police will always attend more quickly than when 999 is used?
In the majority of cases yes, the police provide an emergency level 1 response to a URN call due to the ARCs assessment. Obviously this cannot mean the URN call will remain the priority. Common sense applies and incidents involving firearms, large-scale public disorder or a fatal road traffic accident may take priority.
However, in most cases, once a URN is used, the police do attend as a priority. Whereas, when a 999 call is received and assessed, it takes its place in a list of ongoing and ever changing events.
BSIA: Ken, is the allocation of URNs to ARCs expensive?
The fees for applying for URNs are contained within the NPCC’s Security Systems Policy. These are tiered, based on the number of LWDs monitored by an ARC nationally. As an example, an ARC monitoring 9,999 devices would pay around 23p per device per year to be able to use a URN. This drops around 1p for more than 30,000 devices monitored by an ARC. Some ARCs do not monitor devices across all UK police forces and this reduces URN costs. Given this, it is clear that a supplier’s ability to use the URN system does not add significant costs to lone worker services.
BSIA: Roger, if the URN system is not expensive then why don’t all LWD suppliers and ARCs apply to use it?
It starts with compliance to BS 8484. Basically, you need to be certified. Some companies and ARCs are unable to meet the standard which could be down to the devices, the quality of services offered or the provisions of other requirements relating to data security and staff security screening. That being the case, they are not able to apply for URNs as outlined within the NPCC Security Systems Policy. If it all sounds too complicated, buyers should always ask to see a BS 8484 certificate as part of the procurement process.
BSIA: Is the URN system working well for police, the lone worker industry and its customers?
KM: Yes, a major aim of the NPCC Security Systems Policy is to ensure alarms are effectively passed to the Police with minimal impact of false alarms. Statistics show false alarms passed via the Lone Worker URN system are minimal, with BSIA members reporting that 99.7 percent of alerts being filtered by the ARC. Just 0.3 percent are passed to the Police.
Only audited and accredited lone worker suppliers, complying with the NPCC policy are able to state on publicity literature that their service is ‘Police Compliant’. This prevents companies that have not demonstrated compliance to relevant standards or NPCC policy being able to set up business and claim any sort of police accreditation.
RV: The URN system is effective in reducing the time it takes for an alarm to be escalated to the Police. Given the number of alerts that are filtered, the Police have come to value the work of the Lone Worker Suppliers with URNs. There is a very high percentage of real and live incidents amongst the alarms passed to the Police, this is very constructive as the Police recognise the quality of all incidents passed to them by a compliant ARC. This reassures the market of the value of using certified suppliers.
BSIA: Ken, does the NPCC false alarm policy apply to lone worker suppliers and ARCs using URNs? (Police response suspended after 3 false alarms)
URNs are allocated to ARCs (not to individual addresses) and people who may or may not work from a fixed location use lone worker devices. The likelihood of a lone worker device generating 3 false alarms where a local police force attends the same premises in a given time period is very unlikely.
The NPCC’s Security Systems Policy does not apply the 3 false alarms criteria to lone worker alerts and to date no lone worker URN has been suspended.
BSIA: How do the changes of British Standards for ARCs affect the use of URNs to get a Police response?
KM: BS 5979 has been the de facto standard for many years and most UK ARCs with certification work to this standard. The UK has adopted BS EN 50518 complimented by BS 8591. The NPCC and the two auditing bodies, NSI and SSAIB, have confirmed that all three standards are a valid route for an ARC to be in a position to apply for URNs.
BSIA: So it sounds as though BS 8484 brings clarity to the market and benefits clients?
KM: The current system has benefits for all parties; the Police benefit from working with knowledgeable and experienced ARCs. The employers and lone workers benefit from the confidence of any escalation being assessed expertly and if required passed to the Police in the most effective way possible.
RV: Confidence is vital, and the best way to achieve that is to make decisions about lone worker services based on the quality that comes from a BS 8484 certificate. Each capable supplier should then be reviewed in terms of how their solutions precisely meet the needs of the client organisation.