How to Reduce Risks for Mobile Workforces

In emergencies, there is a better solution than traditional cell phones or smartphones -- essentially, a help button that can be pressed after a fall.


Insurance agents and adjustors are often away from their desks attending to customer needs and inquiries in the field. Typically, property insurance adjustors are some of the first on the scene after a natural disaster or personal property emergency. Conditions on the ground are often less than ideal. Damaged structures, flood waters and violent weather can all threaten the safety of adjustors as they work to help customers file claims. 

While adjusting is a required function of business. it creates risks for employee safety. Insurance companies have provided training and planned for these situations by creating standard operating procedures and protocols to help keep employees safe. But the pandemic has caused an increase in employees working remotely, and, while at first this was viewed as a short-term necessity, in many cases it is now a permanent change.

When employees are not operating in an office or controlled environment, it is more difficult for businesses to manage the risks those workers invariably encounter. Further, it becomes increasingly more difficult to know when a worker needs emergency assistance. Organizations with employees who operate outside of traditional workplace settings need to develop safety protocols and invest in different technologies that secure the safety of mobile workers.

While proper training in safety procedures remains crucial, providing mobile workers with the right tools to request and receive help in an emergency is critical. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 95 of Americans now own a cell phone of some type, and more than one-third own a smartphone. While these devices provide many conveniences, in emergency situations they remain highly limited, especially in environments that have poor reception or that limit a user’s ability to reach and operate the device.

For example, a cell phone is not able to detect if someone slipped and fell, was trapped by falling debris or experienced one of the thousands of other emergencies that can occur on the job. With a cell phone, the user is still required to be conscious and within range of the phone to be able to call for help. In the case of mobile workers and lone workers, cell phones are not the most reliable or function-rich options for tracking and monitoring employee safety and health. Additionally, when a lone worker is confronted by a hostile third party, the cell phone is the first item often taken to prevent a call for help. 

In emergencies, there is a better solution than traditional cell phones or smartphones. These situations are good candidates for easily worn devices (i.e., wearables) that automatically report changes that could indicate an emergency, or for a device that a worker could easily use to express the need for help without having to speak or make much of a movement.

Already, there are products like smart hard hats, smart safety vests, smart eyewear and even stick-on patches that can monitor everything from an employee’s location to body temperature and positioning. These devices eliminate the need for a worker to report an emergency, but, like cell phones, they have their limitations, as well. 

For example, while the devices can transmit certain information about a situation to a manager or human resources department, they do not create a direct line of communication between the worker and responder. If verbal communication is possible in the emergency, the worker would still need to place a call on a phone. 

A better option would be Mobile Personal Emergency Response System (mPERS) devices similar to those used by seniors for years -- essentially, a help button that can be pressed after a fall to alert emergency responders that assistance is needed. These types of technologies have become more beneficial because they no longer require a base station device to place calls, limiting their range of use. 

See also: Momentous Change and Mobile Devices

Like other wearables, mPERS devices are small and lightweight. They provide state-of-the-art location technologies and offer built-in fall advisory capabilities. Wearables with this type of functionality are able to detect horizontal and vertical movement. But they take safety a step further than simply reporting a fall on the job via a text message or red flag in a software system. mPERS devices can also eliminate the need for the worker to initiate a call for help. Instead, they can trigger one automatically. And cloud-based technologies make it possible for central stations to immediately respond to the call for help.  

Another benefit of mPERS devices over cell phones is long battery life. Unlike phones that sometimes have to be charged multiple times a day, mPERS devices have fewer functions and do not need to be fully functional at all times. They can be left off or essentially in a hibernation mode until the SOS button on the device is pressed. Once this action occurs, location information can be sent to a central reporting destination, and an emergency call can be placed. This enables mPERS devices to run on a single charge between two and 30 days depending on the configuration and use of the device.

Whatever wearable device makes the most sense for a particular company, the most important factor is that business owners and managers take advantage of these new technologies that could save lives and improve the safety and health of their lone-worker, mobile employees.

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