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Protecting lone workers – is your manufacturing process up to scratch?

Chris Potts explains and tells us about the important role that effective communication plays, and about how to put in place a robust supporting process

Across many manufacturing and production sites there is often a need for employees to work alone. For instance, in the automotive sector, the spray painting of cars during some manufacturing can be supported by a lone worker – as the car travels over a conveyor belt during production it is spray painted by machines and monitored by a person. What happens if  – or when – an employee accidentally becomes stuck in a piece of machinery that is part of the production process, and is subsequently dragged along the line? This person could potentially be crushed and lose their life unless appropriate health and safety, and communication processes, are put in place for their protection.

Or, what about during paper and packaging production – when a solo cleaning operator has to clean out a waste paper clippings tunnel, and accidentally accesses a piece of equipment that traps them in a severely compromising health and safety position? Aside from that, there are other areas that can be hazardous to lone workers – for example, within energy production and water supply facilities, service engineers often have to access dark or very steep tunnels, or perform tasks on top of wind turbines. The list and opportunities for accidents across manufacturing and production are almost limitless.

In many of these situations employees – although part of wider teams – function as lone workers, and their health and lives are often at risk. This raises a key question about how best to protect solo workers? 

Employers have situations, duty to protect staff and keep them safe

To guide organisations, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has compiled a useful booklet about the issue. Titled – Protecting lone workers, INDG73 – it explains how to keep lone workers healthy and safe, saying the onus is on employers to protect staff and keep them safe, by providing training, supervision, monitoring and support for lone workers. This includes views on how managers should keep in touch with lone workers, focusing on the role of communication – which is especially key if/when an accident and emergency might occur.

In critical lone worker situations, automated processes and communication technology plays a vital role in enabling effective communication. It can help protect staff and ensure they can get the support they require. For a lot of incidents, lone workers can simply walk to the nearest phone in their workplace to contact their first aid team if the problem is not too severe. But, if landline phones are not present, like in many manufacturing or outdoor plants, smartphones or radio handsets can be a simple and effective lifesaver. The problem, though, is that in several cases, some incidents can happen so quickly that people do not have the time to call for help.  

In those particular moments, where there is zero time to contact someone for aid – such as when an employee becomes attached or trapped to a piece of equipment and could lose a limb or worse, their life – it becomes vital to ensure that employees’ devices are fitted with man-down / tilt sensors that are instantly activated when an accident occurs. The alerts they capture and send need to be integrated into manufacturing and production equipment; so that when the accident takes place, an alert is automatically triggered and sent to machinery, forcing the line and equipment to stop production.

This is also where dual-purpose communication handsets can come into their own and support. These include smartphones with lone worker apps that work perfectly where mobile reception or WiFi is good and reliable. However, if mobile reception can’t be relied on, companies should consider Digital Radio or IP DECT handsets. On the one hand, these comms devices can be used daily for normal operations – and as a critical safety device when a major incident occurs. Such as, when a lone worker is hit by a falling object, falls from height or tumbles down stairs in a remote location and is rendered unconscious.

Receiving incident alerts fast saves lives

Many of today’s handsets come with integrated panic buttons and man-down sensors too, providing a way to play a role in protecting staff. In some situations, these features will not be enough to solve the emergency. Extra measures will need to be taken to integrate and automate alerts and machinery stops into some equipment and production processes – but, just being able to raise an alert immediately, almost instantly, increases the awareness of an incident rapidly, providing teams with time to deal with the problem. Similar to when a fire starts in a building – the work of tackling the fire and minimising risk to life is yet to come. In any scenario, it is important that response teams are capable of receiving the alert information quickly, and once establishing the seriousness of the incident, they have the means to collaborate with others quickly, to coordinate a response. Communication technology and automation can play a big role in this process.     

For instance, not all response teams are medically trained. So the first thing a 1st responder might do to help a colleague – who is critically ill and unresponsive – is to call the first aid team to get medically trained personnel on the scene as quickly as possible. This call may also be followed by a call to emergency services, the gatehouse – to keep access to the location of the accident open – and a colleague, who can escort paramedics  quickly through the building or site to access the patient. 

Another key question here is about how the alarms reach the response team in the first place? This can be done via an automated platform that distributes alerts directly to the response team on their PC and/or Comms Device. There are other methods, however, an automated system provides key information – such as lone worker’s name, number and location – first hand, directly on response teams’ screens so they don’t need to jot it down. These applications also ensure alerts are accepted by a member of a team, which is then communicated, so the rest of the team know who is dealing with it. Essentially, it’s a blend of the most appropriate technology and process that protects people. 

Conclusion

If manufacturing and engineering organisations intend to look after lone workers and meet HSE requirements, they must ensure that they have the right technology and appropriate supporting communication processes in place to protect lone workers from when an incident occurs. Implementing this is crucial. In some cases, the difference between severe injury and /or life or death.

Chris Potts is Marketing Director with ANT Telecom. The company enables organisations to better protect employees and business through integrated communication solutions for telephony, IOT/IIOT, lone worker safety and critical alarm management. https://www.anttelecom.co.uk/about-ant-telecom

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