Look for a Personal Emergency ID system that is waterproof. (Vital ID image)

Strategic Benefits of Personal Emergency ID

Make it part of your risk management toolbox. It raises the standard of health and safety expected in a workplace.

After saying goodbye to his wife that damp, cloudy Tuesday, Bob got into his truck, sipped his coffee, and started to drive to work in a neighboring town about half an hour away. To Bob, it seemed like a pretty average, normal working day, but it was far from it.

He had recently started a contract job on a fairly large site with a range of work activities and with co-workers he hardly knew. He sort of knew their names and their favorite football team, but not a great deal else. All in all, though, they were not a bad crew.

At 11 a.m., without warning, a co-worker found Bob collapsed and unconscious on the floor. There was no obvious sign why Bob had collapsed--no fallen masonry, timber, or steel tubing and no loose electrical wires. Bob could not be revived. The crew had an emergency on their hands and immediately called the on-site paramedics. At this point, Bob’s supervisor and co-workers realized how little they actually knew about him in order to help the paramedics when they arrived.

Fortunately for Bob, his health and safety manager had implemented a Personal Emergency ID regime on site. When the paramedics got to Bob, they quickly assessed him and accessed his ID. They learned a lot very quickly. This told them that Bob has only one kidney and suffered from elevated blood pressure, a possible cause of his collapse. In addition, they learned his full name, what medication he took, and how to contact his family in the event of an incident like this.

I'm pleased to report that this incident had a happy outcome and that Bob returned to work a few weeks later, fitter and holding down his job well. This is an example based on a true story, and it illustrates very clearly how little is often known about employees and contractors in the event of an accident or medical condition arising. In addition, we can see how small amounts of information about a person at the right time can have a very positive bearing on management of the situation by medics, first responders, and other professional incident managers. Knowing a few simple things about a person at an accident or when a medical condition arises can have a significant impact:

  • Who is he?
  • How do we contact his boss or supervisor?
  • How do we contact his family?
  • Does he have any significant underlying medical conditions that could help paramedics when managing the situation?
  • Is he taking any medication?

As we know, efficient and effective management at the start of an accident or when a medical condition arises promotes the possibility of a positive outcome in the longer term.

Accidents and medical incidents like Bob's are happening from Seattle to Miami, San Diego to Boston, and all points in between. They can involve employees, contractors, lone workers, and teams. Whether working in oil and gas, construction, utilities, light or heavy industry, forestry, highways, or railroads, no one is immune. It's a pretty ubiquitous situation.

The Risk Management Toolbox
As I have illustrated, Personal Emergency ID should be viewed as an important component in the risk management toolbox, both tactical and strategic. At one level, ID is a low-cost tactical operational tool helping first responders at an incident, as well as simply helping with identification of workers day to day. In addition, use of Personal Emergency ID can be used to demonstrate best practice and proactive safety management when negotiating insurance premiums. Where the ID adheres to PPE, this can promote greater ownership of their equipment.

Implementing Personal Emergency ID in an organization has a strategic benefit. (Vital ID graphic)

Implementing Personal Emergency ID in an organization also has a strategic benefit. In particular, it helps raise the bar, raising the standard of health and safety expected in a workplace. Used to augment training and enhance procedures, it can help to reinforce the workplace safety culture.

Following on from this, I've witnessed examples where workers start to take greater personal responsibility for their health and safety as they have promoted the use of Personal Emergency ID themselves, without the intervention or coercion of the health and safety team. As a simple and effective part of our risk management toolbox, Personal Emergency ID can help to deliver a win-win for a lot of people in many different types of organizations.

Types of Personal Emergency ID
While there are many types of Personal Emergency ID, the main division is between those that are low tech and those employing some form of electrical device, scanner, telecommunications device, or chip. Outlined below is a cursory look at the options and some of the principal constraints you need to be aware of when weighing up which might work best for your health and safety regime.

Low tech
If we consider for one moment the low tech Personal Emergency ID options, they cover a spectrum of devices, from dog tags to hand-written ID cards, wrist bags, and ID that adheres to hard hats and other PPE apparel. Their principal benefits are that they are low cost and can be accessed without the need for a computer, a bar scanner, or access to a cellular network.

Simplicity is key here. In the event of an incident, first responders can quickly see a few key pieces of information about the incapacitated person. These options are independent of any technology. While these devices are simple and low cost, they must adhere to the C.A.R.R. principle to be effective:

  • Conspicuous--Visible and clear what it is and where it is.
  • Accessible--The information has to be retrievable and readable.
  • Relevant--The information needs to be accurate, not necessarily voluminous.
  • Resilient--It is resilient both to the weather and to a person's demanding work regime.

We need to take a balanced assessment of any potential downsides or negative perceptions associated with all risk management tools. Some of the most frequently asked questions or statements include these:

"I only need provide Personal Emergency ID for workers who have a medical condition or those who take medication."

  • Personal Emergency ID is not just for people with a medical condition, but for anyone who may be incapacitated following an accident.
  • You do not know who has a medical condition. Many workers choose not to reveal their medical condition or medication to employers or co-workers. Workers often are prepared to write their medical condition and personal information on an ID when they know it will be useful in case of an incident or emergency.

"What about my data security liability?"

  • Ensure it is the workers’ choice if and what information they to supply.  Employers can reasonably insist that an ID includes a worker's name and contact details for their boss. Leave it up to individuals to supply what other information they want on the ID for use at the time of an emergency.
  • This has to be the individual's choice, and it encourages their ownership of their own health and safety. A softer approach will achieve greater worker participation without compromising your compliance status.
  • Most products have tamper-proof seals or a similar device to ensure the data is contained securely, keeping private data private. This way, it is seen only by the right people in the event of an accident or medical emergency.

"Where the ID adheres to a helmet, does the glue damage the helmet?"

  • In the past this may have been an issue, but today, mainstream manufacturers have specifically formulated adhesives to eliminate this potential problem. Many helmet Personal Emergency IDs now stick to hard hats for long periods without compromising their strength.

"Where the ID uses ink and paper to hold information, how do I stop it getting wet and losing the information?"

  • Look for a Personal Emergency ID system that is waterproof. In the first instance, go for a product that prevents water entering the ID. In addition, check to see that the paper or card used inside the ID is specifically manufactured to prevent ink running if it does get wet. Use of a permanent marker pen/ink can help a lot, too.

High tech
Having Personal Emergency ID in the form of a memory card or chip means that quite detailed personal information can be stored and read, but is conditional on first responders and incident managers having access to a device that can read it.

Some products use bar and QR codes, which once scanned enable first responders and paramedics to access the breadth of relevant medical and non-medical information. Like the use of memory cards, this is very effective at providing detailed information, but it does rely on people at the scene of an incident, or nearby, being able to use devices to do the scanning and reading.

Particularly for lone workers and those working in the field, some Personal Emergency ID include a tracking device so the workers can be easily located in the event of an incident. Many rely on the cellular network, so the race is on to find low-cost global solutions that use satellite networks to pinpoint someone’s remote location and allow them voice contact using adapted smartphones.

Back to Bob
While this is by no means a comprehensive review, it should provide you and your fellow health and safety professionals an introduction to Personal Emergency ID in the workplace, along with the strategic and tactical benefits you can expect to leverage and some of the solutions available to you for more detailed consideration. But, in the end, to comes down to our people and our teams.

When Bob left for work that fateful Tuesday, he didn't know that the decision of his health and safety manager only a few weeks earlier to implement Personal Emergency ID on site would have such a decisive and positive impact on him and his family--which, I suggest, gives us all food for thought.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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