Are Personal Alarms More Effective Than Panic Buttons?

When it comes to providing assistance in an emergency, panic buttons and personal alarms are two of the most common ways employees can seek help – but which is better for protecting lone workers?

Chances are you may already be familiar with the concept of panic buttons. They are typically hidden out of sight under the counter in banks, shops and many other businesses where workers may encounter danger. When pressed, these buttons often link-up to security staff, a central office or in some cases the Police to alert them that help is required urgently. There can be other features built-in, such as safety switches to shut down machinery, but generally panic buttons operate on a fairly basic level and are installed in one fixed location.

Personal alarms are usually small hand-held devices that can easily be carried on an employee’s person. Depending on their specific functionality, on activation users can be put through to a monitoring centre with professionally trained alarm receivers who can assist, contact the emergency services and in some cases, even communicate directly with the user.

Advantages and Limitations


Incidents are hard to predict and can occur at any time or place. Having a portable alarm has an advantage over traditional panic buttons as they don’t require the user to be in a specific place in order to activate them. They are also advantageous for those working alone who can’t rely on someone else to raise the alarm if they are unable to.

Personal alarms are also recommended if employees are based in more than one area or constantly on the move as they can be carried or even worn by the user. However personal alarms are only effective if employees remember to keep them close to hand. Devices can also potentially get misplaced, so it’s vital that staff receive proper training to emphasise their importance for safety.


How discreetly an alarm can be raised is a decisive factor, certain situations may require a subtler approach. For example in a shop, if a customer is behaving in a threatening manner then using a personal alarm may be favoured as it can be pressed in a user’s pocket without anybody knowing. A possible assailant may also be aware of the locations of panic buttons if they are placed on the wall, whereas it may be less obvious that staff are carrying personal alarms.


Panic buttons are easy to use and in many cases one button can be used by all employees. Personal safety alarms are also simple to activate, but they often have additional functionality with some even having a built-in ‘mandown’ feature which can be triggered if a user slips, trips or falls. This is especially beneficial for lone workers as if they become incapacitated, assistance can still be summoned.

Some personal safety devices can track a user’s exact location using GPS. With panic buttons you may only know the location where it was pressed. If someone was running away from danger this can make it harder for the emergency services to find them without a dedicated device tracking their whereabouts.

Weighing it up

Ultimately, a decision should take into account the specific environment where employees work and the situations they are likely to find themselves in. To summarise a few key points:

  • Panic buttons are a good solution if you are looking to protect workers who are based in one area with a lower level of risk
  • Situations with higher risk may require more sophisticated safety measures, so personal alarms are recommended as they are discreet and can offer advanced features including ‘mandown’ fall alarms and the ability to communicate with trained Controllers
  • Personal alarms provide flexibility, they are portable and can be shared between employees, whereas panic buttons require planning into the design of a building, with their locations carefully selected before installation
  • Lone workers may face a greater threat to their safety so a higher level of protection will often be required

Whichever option you choose, both must be monitored and maintained in order to be effective. In emergencies panic buttons and alarms can be critical so it’s essential that they work when they are needed and procedures are put in place to manage them properly. One example that highlights the importance of this occurred when a man working alone in a South London betting shop was savagely attacked with a hammer during a robbery. When he pressed the store’s panic button, staff at the company’s security office assumed it had been a false alarm, as he had collapsed behind the counter out of the CCTV’s view. The man was later discovered by a customer, but sadly died as a result of his injuries.

Health & Safety legislation dictates that employers must take responsibility for their workforce’s safety; therefore, they cannot allow panic buttons and personal alarms to become overlooked or forgotten about. Proper safety training must be provided so employees know where panic buttons are located and are confident activating personal alarms in an emergency. As the case above shows, the costs of failing to do so are too high to leave anything to chance.