Laurel & Hardy

‘Health and safety’ and ‘slapstick comedy’ rarely feature in the same sentence. And rightly so. But for some companies, strategies to protect lone workers wouldn’t look out of place in an old-school silent movie.

Now even Laurel and Hardy would tell you that you can’t alert to an emergency using mime or subtitles. Yet the black and white truth is that in a surprising number of companies, lone worker comms were built for a bygone era. It’s no laughing matter. In fact, new sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter are delivering a harsh punchline: companies that fail to take lone worker protection seriously should prepare for another fine mess. Moreover, the ‘fine’ could actually put them out of business.

New guidelines from the Sentencing Council became operational on February 1st 2016. They affect all business, large and small. Under the new regulations, the fines for corporate manslaughter breaches have increased dramatically. Large companies with turnover in excess of £50 million could be fined as much as £20 million for a Category A offence. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with turnover beneath £2 million could be fined £800,000. In each case, the penalties could threaten businesses’ very existence.

For health and safety managers, the tougher guidelines should provide a catalyst to ensure lone worker protection finally makes the radar of c-level executives and business owners. Certainly, the threat of huge fines should motivate companies to move away from cost-saving measures that have prevented them from investing in lone worker systems - and focus instead on avoiding the much larger potential cost of failing to provide adequate protection. After all, “cost-cutting at the expense of safety” is identified in the sentencing guidelines as an aggravating factor.

In reality, the implementation of an effective lone worker system is nowhere near as costly as many perceive. Firms rarely need to buy an expensive new system, with most legacy systems capable of being enhanced to include lone worker functionality. Moreover, with good advice from a specialist technology partner, lone worker tools can be integrated with other existing IT systems to bring additional functionality to communications right across the enterprise. The examination of lone worker capabilities presents a powerful opportunity to address the communications needs of all departments simply and cost-effectively. This not only secures buy-in from stakeholders right across the business, but it demonstrates collaboration and employee engagement that can only improve productivity.

A good telecoms partner can use existing technologies to design systems that satisfy the communications needs of all employees. This can turn the daunting increase in corporate manslaughter penalties into a stimulus for renewed business growth. The smartest organisations will be those that find the right partner and start proactive, collaborative discussions to tailor the most appropriate solution.

The landscape for Corporate Manslaughter has changed irrevocably; failing to act properly could lead to a calamity of Laurel & Hardy proportions. But just like there’s no place for ‘slapstick’ in health and safety, being ‘slapdash’ with lone worker protection could lead to a sentence with far different implications. One that that could cost up to £20 million in fines and threaten the very wellbeing of your business. Now that really is another fine mess.

By Paul Smith, Managing Director at ANT Telecom