What is the Purpose of a Panic Alarm?

A panic alarm is used to give a person under duress the means to quickly and silently signal for help when it may be difficult to call for assistance. For example, having a disgruntled shopper at the customer service counter becoming increasingly angry and aggressive. In an emergency, a panic alarm provides a discreet and convenient way to summon help without drawing attention.

What is a panic alarm?

A panic alarm – also called duress alarms, SOS alarms,  personal alarms or panic buttons – is an electronic device that raises an alarm in emergency situations when a person needs help.

Traditional, fixed panic alarms are typically found in retail environments where the store is dealing with large amounts of money such as a jewellers, banks or betting shops. As the name suggests, the alarm is fixed (normally under a desk) to be triggered in an emergency. This type of panic alarm is rendered useless if there is no one near enough to use it.

Having mobile access to panic alarms is a much more efficient and secure solution. Whether an employee finds themselves in an uncomfortable situation in the car park, or they need immediate assistance in the warehouse, panic alarms via apps and devices can be activated anywhere.

How does a panic alarm work?

Panic alarms consist of two basic components: activation and a communication system. Activation is typically handled by a button – either a physical button on a device or a button within an application.

The communication system is the method that is used to summon help when a panic alarm is activated. The type of communications system will depend on where the panic alarm is purchased from and the available resources of the supplier.

Communications to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC)

Once activated, the panic alarm would send an alert to the Alarm Receiving Centre where they would gather information about the incident taking place. Based on the situation, the ARC would then call the emergency services, or other appropriate people to respond to the site. This is the most sophisticated and professional solution because ARCs have to be accredited and regulated, and they also operate 24/7.

Watch our video and learn more about the Peoplesafe ARC

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Communications to a security control centre

Larger companies often have a centralised security monitoring and control centre, either on-site, or at a central location within their organisation. With this type of resource, panic alarms are typically connected to the organisation’s security management system which will deal with any alarms raised internally.

Communications to non-security personnel

In the absence of an internal security team, some organisations choose to create a ‘response team’ usually consisting of line managers as well as employees from the HR and Operations departments. This team is tasked with responding to any panic alarms raised.

Why do you need a panic alarm?

Employers have a legal duty of care to ensure employees are safe at work. While CCTV and other monitoring systems are useful, ultimately they are passive pieces of technology that will not be able to help an employee in an emergency. A panic alarm is able to raise an alert if an employee feels threated or is attacked, enabling help to be sent to their location.

Every business can benefit from the use of panic alarms; here is just a few examples:

  • Receptionists in building lobbies
  • Security guards
  • Check-out/cashier staff
  • Interviewing prospective employees
  • Dismissal/misconduct meetings

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a shift in focus towards employee protection with a new employee safety culture emerging. Investing in employee safety with a technology-driven panic system creates a company culture that demonstrates that staff are valued and protected. This investment will help to drive employee retention, subsequently reducing the cost of recruiting and training new workers.

When to use a panic alarm

A panic alarm can be used in a range of different emergency situations where help might be needed quickly:

  • Feeling intimidated by someone
  • Being verbally abused
  • In danger of physical assault
  • Getting trapped without means of communication

These situations can occur at work, but are equally likely when employees are off the clock, particularly if they are working shifts or have to commute during unsociable hours. Providing staff with personal panic alarms can help to protect them beyond the risks faced during their working day.

Choosing a panic alarm that uses an Alarm Receiving Centre (which operates 24/7) means that employees have round the clock protection with a managed response service ready to help if an alarm is raised.

Tips for successfully using panic alarms

Panic alarms are worthless unless people know how to use them and feel confident in the process of what happens when an alarm is raised. Make sure to provide training for each employee that receives a panic alarm and refresher training on an annual basis.

Technology is most widely adopted when it is embedded into company culture. Staff should understand the benefits of having a panic alarm and be encouraged to use it if their personal safety is threatened. Implementing personal safety champions with influence at all levels of the business is likely to increase adoption.

Download our guide for Creating a Positive Health & Safety Culture

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Panic alarm vs lone worker solution

A panic alarm is a simple solution that is able to call for help in an emergency, whereas a lone worker solution has a panic alarm at its heart with a range of additional features to protect employees when they are most vulnerable, including fall detection, voice memo timers and locate now.

During the risk assessment process, you might identify lone working as a hazard for certain groups or individual members of staff. For these people, a panic alarm is not sufficient to fulfil your Duty of Care. In March 2020, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) updated their guidance on lone workers which requires employers to ‘keep in touch with them and respond to any incident’ and ensure that lone workers are properly trained, monitored and supervised.

All lone worker protection services must be accredited to BS 8484:2016 which requires compliance for both the devices and the Alarm Receiving Centre. Moreover, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) ensure that police will only respond to lone worker alarms if the solution provided is certified by audit to BS 8484 — making compliance vital.

A lone worker device or app offers vital protection and reassurance to staff working alone who are more vulnerable to attacks and the consequences of having nobody to call on if things go wrong. For example, if a lone worker has a fall, they may not receive help in a timely manner, which could lead to more serious injuries or even a fatality.

Panic alarms are best suited to groups such as shift workers commuting during unsociable hours or office workers required to park off-site in remote car parks or residential roads.

For advice and guidance on the best solution to protect your workers, speak to one of our expert consultants today.