Man Down Safety Alarms Depend on Sound End to End Procedures

Published: 09th July 2010
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The term "Man Down" is commonly used and applied to a specific type of device carried by remote workers. However, in my view, it should be considered a concept rather than an actual gadget, and as such the term has perhaps become an over-used adjective.

Nevertheless, there are many examples where a member of staff or sub-contractor works alone and could face a potentially hazardous situation, and in such a situation devices that can communicate the user's location back to a monitoring team at base, as well as send alarms can be extremely valuable. That said, no device, by itself, can ever be totally relied upon to protect someone unless there is attentive supervision and a prepared scenario-based action plan.

For example, no "Man Down" GPS device will work if any one of Battery, GPS or GPRS is unavailable. In dangerous situations this may be a relatively common situation, and the device may suffer in the same incident that causes the worker to become a "man down" in the first place. A so-called "Man-Down" device, on its own, is unlikely to be of any use to a security guard who falls down a hole on a building site for example.

A more balanced and pragmatic approach has intelligence based in the monitoring team and their systems to monitor the movement of tracked people and draw inferences based on the observed behaviour, and where necessary take pro-active steps to intervene. The process should also involve proper assessment of the mobile signal coverage in the particular area where work is taking place. If the unit stops sending any information, or the location information that it does send shows an unexpected lack of movement, then the watching agent can initiate a "Man Down" procedure if only to eliminate any doubt as to the well being of the monitored individual. The response is then driven from the monitoring team with responsibility to oversee the care and safety of the field staff, and is likely to involve relaying alerts on to other tracked people.

"Man Down!" is really a warning for people to stop what they are doing and be prepared to seek out and help someone who may be in trouble, for example, if they have not moved for a few minutes and are within a known danger area.

Most commercial GPS tracking devices will provide the location reporting element of a "Man Down" system and support sending of single press panic alarms.

Some suppliers do offer devices with built-in motion detectors, such as an accelerometer that would activate on a sharp fall. This may be built into a GPS tracking and communication device - or be a second smaller device worn by the lone worker, which communicates over Bluetooth with a communication device.

So in conclusion, the quality of a "Man Down" system will be highly dependent on the quality of the reporting and response procedures, and the solution must factor in the likelihood that any device issued to the lone worker may not be able to function at the instant a "Man Down" incident actually occurs.


Iain Jones works with Zest Tracking Ltd, a leading UK provider of Industrial Strength GPS Tracking Solutions.

Zest's core GPS tracking platform forms the basis of both lone worker and man down alarm solutions.

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