WHO’S BEHIND THAT DOOR?
PERSONAL SECURITY IS A MAJOR CONCERN to real estate agents as the job involves a high degree of working alone or in remote areas. Bob Barrington from Lone Worker Safety looks at a range of technologies designed to help keep your staff safe.
IT IS PART AND parcel of the industry that agents frequently work alone at clients’ properties, leaving them vulnerable and at risk from the behaviour of other people - prospective buyers, landlords, tenants. Agents have been and continue to be subject to threat, abuse and assault in the course of their normal work.
Incidents of verbal abuse are common. Principals are often worried about the safety of their staff. In the ACT recently a young female agent felt she had to call for help because she thought the client was more interested in her than in the property. A property manager in Queensland recently reported 200 cases of verbal abuse in just the last 12 months!
In Australia, a person conducting a business or undertaking must manage the risks associated with remote or isolated work (lone-worker), which includes ensuring effective communication with the staff member. Agents regularly travel and work outside normal hours, meeting with people they don’t know, often behind closed doors; and for much of their working day are isolated from the assistance of people they can rely on.
Working alone increases the risks of any job. Agents’ exposure to risk arises primarily through lack of access to assistance in an emergency and exposure to violence, including abuse, threat and assault. In addition to actions by other people, agents are also exposed to everpresent risks of vehicle accident and breakdown, trips, slips and falls, and medical emergencies.
As an employer, do you know where your agents are – not just where they’re supposed to be? Do you know they’re safe? And how would you know if they needed assistance so help could be sent to them quickly in an emergency?
Fortunately, there is a range of technologies now available to estate agencies, from the simple to the sophisticated, to help maintain regular contact with lone working employees, reduce risks and promote peace of mind for both the staff member and management.
So here’s a quick rundown of some of the technologies currently available to help you manage the lone working risks your agents face every day.
MOVEMENT RECORDS AND TELEPHONES
Not exactly high-tech, but simple systems and procedures can often work well to improve safety for your lone workers. Check in/out boards, shared diaries and calendars are cheap, and can easily let you know where staff members are meant to be and when they’re due back. Regular phone calls, texts and emails may be all that is required for staff members to check in to say that all is well. Mobile phones have proven to be a lifesaver in the growing number of areas with adequate mobile signal coverage.
However, in/out boards, shared diaries and calendars tell you where your worker is supposed to be – not where they are, and they don’t automatically alert you when a worker needs help.
They rely on other staff for the safety of your agents in the field – to receive calls, emails and texts, and be alert and react to the non-receipt of messages. People get distracted in a busy office, caught up with other work and customers, and sometimes forget. Recently an investigative journalist told us how the police promised to come to her assistance ‘if she wasn’t out in half an hour’ – then forgot!
PERSONAL SECURITY SYSTEMS
Personal Alarm Security Systems (PASS), being wireless and portable, may be used when moving around and working in deserted workplaces, for example. These will usually include non-movement sensors and panic buttons.
SATELLITE COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS
For geographically remote locations, a number of satellite options are available in Australia across different networks. These vary depending on the service required (for example, voice/data) and so have a range of price plans. Coverage varies across the country depending on the network; even getting a satellite signal can be problematic in some locations. Satellite systems include satellite phones, including the capability to turn your smartphone into a satellite phone, and personal trackers for emergency assistance when a lone worker needs it.
IN ADDITION TO ACTIONS BY OTHER PEOPLE, AGENTS ARE ALSO EXPOSED TO EVER-PRESENT RISKS OF VEHICLE ACCIDENT AND BREAKDOWN, TRIPS, SLIPS AND FALLS, AND MEDICAL EMERGENCIES.
Distress beacons should be considered where life-threatening emergencies could occur, for example when travelling on lonely outback roads. These devices include Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), designed to be used on land, and EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacons). On activation they send a distress signal via satellite which is then routed to the Australian Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra and then to the police.
ALARMS – ELECTRONIC AND VISUAL MONITORS
Don’t forget the lone workers back in the office. Who’s first in in the morning and last out at night? Who comes in to work on the weekend or mans the office by themselves at lunchtime? And don’t forget the ‘accidental’ lone worker, when a staff member finds themselves alone unexpectedly and possibly unprepared. Electronic and visual monitors offer protection, as do panic alarms sensibly located and linked with a security company to respond.
DEDICATED LONE WORKER DEVICES
These are separate, dedicated devices that are often deployed to high-risk workers, for example workers in hospital emergency rooms and prisons, where there is a high risk of sudden assault. One such device is designed to hang around a worker’s neck or clip to their belt and incorporates their identity card. However, these devices can be expensive to purchase and operate, and are an additional device for a worker to remember, carry and keep charged.
Smartphone apps use GPS and mobile networks to keep track of your staff in real time. This means you can know where they are and be notified automatically in the event of different trigger events, such as panic, duress, non-movement, expiry of a timed session, or a missed check-in. They can be quietly working in the background to help keep your staff safe and only alert the manager when a response is needed. When that happens, you will know who needs help, what the emergency is, exactly where the lone worker is, the task they were doing at the time and what you need to do about it.
Apps range in price and function from free or cheap to proper lone worker management solutions. The best have been independently audited and offer features such as discreet alert capability (so you don’t have to unlock your phone when you need to call for help), two-way audio communication and management tools such as usage reports and audit trails of past sessions. Some can be linked with professional third-party monitoring organisations for users worried about missing an alert, like after hours.