An App Is One Thing, Using It Is Another

How effective are lone worker safety apps? This question was recently raised by Petra Hakansson, the founder and CEO of Guardian Angel Safety, a company specialising in lone worker critical response solutions in New Zealand and Australia. In a LinkedIn post, Ms Hakansson shared her thoughts on mobile phone-based lone worker safety apps and while she concedes they do have a place, a recent conversation confirmed what she has long believed: it’s A LOT harder to get worker engagement with such a “vague” tool as an app.

As an example, Ms Hakansson cites the experience of an organisation that subscribes to 1400 app licenses designed for worker safety yet a maximum of just 40 people use them each day. It can be said that is better than nothing but according to Ms Hakansson, even if 40 different people use them each day of the month, which is highly unlikely, it’s still a terrible uptake. She calculates that even if the app is cheap to buy, say $5 per license per month, that’s still $7,000 a month, or $85,000 per annum. That’s a lot of money spent for not much safety in return. And with only 40 used out of 1400, it’s decidedly more difficult to stay in line with any compliance requirements as well.

Ms Hakansson believes the lone worker safety solutions provided by Guardian Angel Safety are more effective than cheap apps. She sees her company as a “no-compromises” safety partner, providing safety tools that can be trusted to work when they need to. For her, 80% of the time is simply not good enough and with low user engagement associated with apps, that is always a possibility. Ms Hakansson describes her company as one offering a higher level of security, safety and reassurance, specifically targeted to the lone worker. She says her company is one that “sticks to our knitting” and concentrates on just lone worker safety by bringing together components like API integrated monitoring and trained operators who coordinate critical response solutions. That’s not to say apps don’t have their place at Guardian Angel Safety. The company does offer two entry-level app options, and they are better than nothing, but Ms Hakansson warns against relying on them alone to manage worker safety in New Zealand and Australia.

User engagement is always an issue with phone-based apps and this is amply illustrated by current events. New Zealand’s Covid Tracer app is probably the best-known and most downloaded app in the country but over the last few weeks there have been 500,000 to 700,000 QR code scans and manual entries from 300,000-400,000 active users on any given day – this is just under 10 % of New Zealand’s adult population. However, modelling suggests that at least 60 % of the population need to participate in digital contact tracing, with 80 % being the optimum figure to gather enough information to control any outbreak, anywhere in the country.

It seems that downloading an app is one thing, but using it is quite another. As the Covid Tracer app shows us, there’s a big gulf between downloading and using.  Petra Hakansson of Guardian Angel Safety would only agree.