by
Fran Worrall
Feature

Employee Safety: Hotels Turn to Technology to Protect Staff from Workplace Violence

Any hotel employee who works alone and without access to immediate assistance in cases of emergency can become a victim,” said Philip Farina, vice president of corporate loss control and loss prevention at Aimbridge Hospitality. He has seen offenses of all kinds, ranging from verbal harassment and suggestive comments to groping and physical assaults. “Hotels face the same problems that occur in society at large,” he said. “And those problems occur across the board, even at the best properties.”

Employee Safety: Hotels Turn to Technology to Protect Staff from Workplace Violence

by
Fran Worrall
Feature
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Any hotel employee who works alone and without access to immediate assistance in cases of emergency can become a victim,” said Philip Farina, vice president of corporate loss control and loss prevention at Aimbridge Hospitality. He has seen offenses of all kinds, ranging from verbal harassment and suggestive comments to groping and physical assaults. “Hotels face the same problems that occur in society at large,” he said. “And those problems occur across the board, even at the best properties.”

Any hotel employee who works alone and without access to immediate assistance in cases of emergency can become a victim,” said Philip Farina, vice president of corporate loss control and loss prevention at Aimbridge Hospitality. He has seen offenses of all kinds, ranging from verbal harassment and suggestive comments to groping and physical assaults. “Hotels face the same problems that occur in society at large,” he said. “And those problems occur across the board, even at the best properties.”

Any hotel employee who works alone and without access to immediate assistance in cases of emergency can become a victim,” said Philip Farina, vice president of corporate loss control and loss prevention at Aimbridge Hospitality. He has seen offenses of all kinds, ranging from verbal harassment and suggestive comments to groping and physical assaults. “Hotels face the same problems that occur in society at large,” he said. “And those problems occur across the board, even at the best properties.”

Several factors contribute to the occupational hazards. First, there’s the imbalance of power. Class disparity plays a role, particularly between housekeepers — who are often immigrants and women of color — and guests. Moreover, the nature of hotel service jobs contributes to the level of risk. Employees work late at night and often must deal with guests who are stressed, tired and intoxicated. Hotels also have many isolated areas, with staff sometimes working without the supervision and support of a team.

The pandemic only made matters worse, Farina noted. “Many people lost their jobs, and Covid-related restrictions took a heavy psychological toll.” Moreover, the pressure to keep properties open resulted in lower room rates at many hotels, and a different type of clientele began to visit. “In some cases, people who engaged in criminal activity, including prostitution and human trafficking, were coming in.” An industry-wide labor shortage also resulted in a shift toward eliminating daily guest room housekeeping, which made it difficult for properties to maintain security protocols.

Commitment to worker safety

Given the prevalence of workplace harassment and its associated risks, labor unions and advocacy groups have been pushing for years for measures that will protect employees. In June 2019, New Jersey became the first state to require hotels to provide workers with wearable panic buttons; and, in 2020, Illinois and Washington followed suit. In addition, several cities, including Chicago, Miami Beach and Seattle, have passed mandates that include a requirement that hotels provide safety buttons to employees.

Four years ago, the American Hotel & Lodging Association announced the 5-Star Promise, an initiative to improve employee safety with enhanced policies, training and resources as well as a pledge to provide hotel workers across the country with safety devices. According to the organization, almost 60 member companies representing 20,000 hotel properties made a commitment early on to prioritizing worker safety and equipping employees with the devices, with an original goal of nationwide implementation by the end of 2020. However, due to the pandemic, deadlines were extended, with hotels representing approximately two million rooms needing a solution by the end of this year.

According to attorney Greg Duff, who chairs the hospitality practice at Foster Garvey in Seattle, as more municipalities and trade associations adopt policies requiring safety devices, it will become increasingly difficult for hotels to refuse to implement the technology. “These mandates are creating a standard, even for properties not directly affected by them,” he explained. “The problem of workplace harassment has been clearly established and well publicized, so hotels that choose to do nothing run the risk of being in violation and seen as negligent.”

Finding the right solution

Employee safety devices, often called panic button solutions, are GPS-enabled devices that rely on some combination of cellular, GPS, Bluetooth, radio frequency and Wi-Fi to provide consistent connectivity and communicate real-time trackable location data. When activated, the devices send an alert, via location beacons, to a central monitoring station so that responders can help. Advanced systems offer additional functionality, such as interactive maps and comprehensive reporting capabilities.

Perhaps the most important element in any employee safety solution is a consistent and fast connection. Cloud-based hosting is also essential in the event of a network outage. “These devices must work every time and everywhere,” said Farina. “There are lots of nooks and crannies in a hotel, and the technology has to work in all of them.” Carefully analyze each solution, keeping in mind the property’s layout.

Cost is also a factor. Review contracts carefully and look for unexpected charges. With hotels potentially deploying hundreds of devices, costs can add up quickly, particularly in the areas of maintenance and support. “You want to get what you need without spending a fortune,” said David Bareno, assistant vice president of global safety and security at Marriott Vacations Worldwide.

Employee Safety Devices: Predictions and Next Evolutions

What does the future hold for employee safety devices? According to leading providers, quite a lot.

For starters, safety devices likely will follow the industryís trend of integrating with other hotel systems to enhance security and functionality. "As platforms utilize the benefits of geolocation, the technology opens up new possibilities to boost hotel operations," said Nicolas Aznar, president-Americas at ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions. Potential uses include monitoring the real-time location of amenities and equipment, serving as a wayfinding feature, and promoting hotel services to guests based on real-time on-site locations.

John Troutwine, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Broadband Hospitality, agrees. "Remote monitoring sensors that go beyond the panic and safety system will be added," he predicts, noting examples such as water leak detection, motion detection and HVAC monitoring. "A typical temperature/humidity sensor costs only $35-$40 and when added to the panic and safety infrastructure, it creates an incremental value and a return on the overall monitoring investment."

Similarly, some hotels with enterprise Wi-Fi networks can save up to 75 percent on the cost of installing an employee safety system and up to 70 percent of upfront capital expenditures. John Stachowiak, chief executive officer at React Mobile, expects  this to be a big growth area. "Leveraging existing infrastructure can help hotels get more for their money."

For Benoit Le Gall, vice president of business development at Nomadix, safety device technology will streamline operations in a post-pandemic environment where hotels face staff shortages and other challenges. "Given that hotels are now having to do more with less, the industry might look at what can be added to safety devices to help properties run smoothly," he said. "Eliminating even small steps can create efficiencies and boost staff morale."

Some providers believe both the industry and legislative bodies will determine that noisemakers are insufficient to protect workers, as has already happened in Miami Beach. "Many properties and owners have opted to deploy these solutions in order to comply with panic button requirements, but they arenít effective," said Kris Singleton, president and chief information officer at Enseo. Additionally, potential employees increasingly have the option to choose employers who protect their workers. "Hotels that want to appeal to job seekers will need to look for the best system rather than the lowest-cost solution that checks the box."

Expanding safety is also top of mind. "The next step for employee safety devices will be to provide coverage to guests as well as to employees who work in teams, such as bar and banquet staff," said Parminder Batra, chief executive officer at TraknProtect.

Likewise, prevention will factor prominently. "In the future, weíll focus more on being proactive rather than reactive," said Barbara Sharnak, vice president of marketing strategy and business development at Relay. For example, if a door is left open, a sensor integration might send an alert to designated staff. "This will move safety in an entirely new direction."

Peter Klebanoff, senior vice president of sales and marketing at ROAR for Good, wants a future where employee safety devices arenít needed. "I'd love to see a world where people stop assaulting each other, but that dream doesnít seem likely." he said. In fact, statistics indicate the opposite. His company recently was granted a patent for the next evolution of its employee safety solution, which includes the ability to operate a battery-powered BLE mesh. His prediction: Hotels will soon recognize that protecting workers is good for business. "A property that deploys safety device technology will realize a significant return on investment by reducing liability, staff turnover and workmanís compensation claims," he said. ìItís a winning formula for everyone.

Installation and training are important, too. Ideally, installation will require a minimal amount of additional infrastructure investment. Moreover, hotel engineers should be able to handle many ongoing issues, such as replacing beacons. As for training, Farina advises choosing a solution that’s easy to learn. “Safety technology only works if it’s used correctly.” Frontline workers must know how to use the device and under what circumstances; and security and safety teams must know the correct actions to take in the event of an alert.

Another tip: Don’t rely on technology alone to keep the property out of trouble. “You have to use your wits and common sense,” said Bareno. “Technology is great, but employees also have to follow protocol.”

Also keep in mind that every property is different, even hotels that have the same profile and architecture. “It’s critical to test the solution in multiple environments,” Farina said. “It may work in some properties and not in others.” What’s more, he advises hoteliers to test in older properties that may not be up to date. “If it works in those environments, it’s probably going to work everywhere else.”

He warns against allowing the IT department to make the final product decision without input from other teams. “This decision affects the human element, so make sure the general manager and owners are on board. The IT department should be involved, but they shouldn’t have the last word.”

Finally, check references. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Farina said, recounting the story of a hotel that selected a solution because the vendor claimed it was brand compliant. When a brand audit later revealed otherwise, the hotel had to select a new system. “Nothing beats a personal reference. Get the names of five or 10 customers,” he advised. “If a vendor can’t provide that, run in the opposite direction.”

Protection and peace of mind

While the addition of any new technology can seem overwhelming, implementing safety buttons doesn’t require a huge shift in infrastructure. Yet the investment in employee safety offers big dividends. “Panic buttons are like an insurance policy,” said Bareno. “They provide a level of protection that gives hotels and staff peace of mind.”

Panic buttons can even help hotels prevent problems that aren’t employee related. At Shutters on the Beach in southern California, a housekeeper recently overheard a woman screaming for help in a guest room, so she pressed her panic button to call for security. As a result, a domestic verbal dispute was interrupted before it escalated into physical violence.

“Panic buttons can be beneficial for guests as well as staff,” said Charlie Lopez-Quintana, vice president and managing director of the property. In fact, employees routinely use the technology to break up feuding guests, call for help in a medical emergency and report human trafficking incidents.

And more, hotels that implement panic button technology are sending a positive message to employees. “Workers notice when their employers take action to provide for their safety,” said Bareno. “It tells them they are valued.”

Likewise, it serves as a recruitment tool. “One of the biggest challenges in the hotel business is staffing,” said Farina. “A good personal security system speaks volumes to potential employees, letting them know that safety is a top priority.”

Failure to protect can be costly

It is also in the hotel’s financial interest to protect employees. “The fallout from workplace harassment can be steep, going far beyond the negative impact on the employee’s mental and physical health,” attorney Duff said. Properties also can experience a loss of productivity, increased absences, employee turnover and costly legal fees.

The hospitality industry is quickly adopting employee safety devices as a best practice, making it necessary for all hotels — whether branded or independent, large or small — to implement the technology. “At the end of the day, providing a safe work environment should be every hotel’s number one priority,” Farina concluded. “Looking out for your employees is always the right thing to do.”

HU recently talked with eight leading providers of employee safety device technology.

Here, they provide information about solutions' key features, requirements, accuracy and training.

Employee Safety Devices: Vendor Round-Up

ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions: Vostio Location Solutions – Staff Safety

Key features:

Incorporates the latest geolocation technologies via the Vostio Location Solutions IoT platform

Transmits both an alert and a worker’s location details to response personnel via web portal and text message

Dashboard is accessible via desktop computer or mobile device

Automatically updates event history, offering insight into length of time taken to respond as well as details on which staff members responded

How it works: The Staff Safety solution utilizes a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communication and cloud-based technology to transmit alerts and location details. When an employee activates a device, a duress signal with the current location information is  transmitted via BLE to a nearby BluFi gateway. This cloud receives the information from the gateway and relays it to the Vostio Location Solutions dashboard and sends text messages to responders’ mobile phones. Should the employee be forced to move, the solution continues to provide responders with updated location information as long as the alert is active in the portal.

Accuracy: Staff Safety provides real-time location details by room and floor number to within 5 meters of accuracy while continuing to provide updated location information during active alerts.

Training: An intuitive dashboard ensures that minimal training is required.

For more information, visit www.assaabloyglobalsolutions.com/en/solutions/staffsafety.

Broadband Hospitality: Push and Protect

Key features:
  • A simple ‘double-tap’ initiates an immediate text and email alert notification process
  • Advanced algorithms guarantee floor-level accuracy
  • Updates every 10 seconds to communicate accurate location
  • LoRa (low energy, high range) radio frequency penetrates all typical building materials, eliminating dead zones in areas such as stairwells and back offices

How it works: The Push and Protect solution uses LoRa gateways that connect to the internet via cellular service. The solution does not reside on the hotel Wi-Fi or wired network. Bluetooth sensors are installed in guest rooms and other areas as needed. When a worker activates a device, the system identifies the closest sensor, and text and email alerts are sent to designated responders. The distress location also appears on the property’s floor plan.

Accuracy: Push and Protect is accurate within feet.

Training: Training takes approximately one hour and is conducted the day after installation.

For more information, visit www.broadbandhospitality.com/services/cctv-and-safety-systems.

Enseo: MadeSafe

Key features:
  • Customizable and configurable, allowing hotels to specify specific alerting intervals
  • Provides location only when activated
  • Comprehensive reporting capabilities and interactive 3D maps
  • Dedicated MadeSafe Alert Station allows for testing of panic buttons
  • Post-installation survey ensures that the system functions accurately in every covered location

How it works: MadeSafe utilizes the hotel infrastructure via Wi-Fi or wired networks. On Wi-Fi, the  gateways are dual band 802.11ac /Wi-Fi5 and 802.1x compatible.

Accuracy: Locates within plus or minus one guest room.

Training: Training consists of attending a half-hour webinar or reviewing the training videos and guides on the Enseo web portal.

For more information, visit www.enseo.com/madesafe.

Nomadix: Nomadix Alerts

Key features:
  • Leverages existing in-room equipment or uses readily available battery-powered Bluetooth beacons with no socket required
  • Sends colleagues and/or security staff a request for assistance, including location, at the press of a button
  • Monitors the quality and security of the Wi-Fi network and alerts hoteliers of potential weak spots
  • Includes embedded fall detection for additional staff safety
  • Cloud-based web administration console

How it works: The Nomadix solution addresses a broad set of situations. It alerts if someone feels threated or has been assaulted or if someone falls and is unconscious. It also alerts if the property's Wi-Fi is under attack or the property's Wi-Fi QoS is below defined standards. Smart badges are hardware agnostic and typically use existing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacon infrastructure to deliver these services.

Accuracy: Location accuracy relies on Bluetooth beacons, which are typically deployed on a per-room basis, as well as additional devices to cover other desired areas.

Training: It takes only minutes for staff to understand how to use the smart badges. Administration training ranges from 30 minutes to two hours.

For more information, visit www.nomadix.com.

React Mobile: Workplace Safety System

Key features:
  • Double-redundant alert pipeline delivers 99.9 percent of alerts in less than a half-second
  • Verifiable dispatch acknowledges that help is on the way
  • Confidential system prevents the buttons from being triggered erroneously
  • Redundant positioning technologies (GPS+BLE) enable users to get help even away from work
  • Measurement of response times allows for continuous improvement

How it works: The solution does not require use of the hotel’s network. However, users can improve coverage if they opt to use hotel Wi-Fi with their company-owned smart devices. Support for all third-party iBeacons enables hotels to save up to 80 percent of platform costs.

Accuracy: Devices offer room-level accuracy with minimal drift.

Training: Training involves a 30-second video. Security dispatchers, installers and system administrators receive a two-hour training seminar. A designated account manager is also assigned to each property.

For more information, visit www.reactmobile.com.

Relay: Relay Panic Button

Key features:
  • Durable water-resistant design and all-day battery life
  • Language translation feature
  • 3D mapping functionality
  • Continuous location information updates
  • Team-wide communication as well as panic button functionality
  • Cloud-based software platform that offers seamless connectivity and easy updates

How it works: Relay comes pre-activated on 4G LTE utilizing partnerships with all major carriers to optimize coverage across the United States. Additionally, Relay can be connected to Wi-Fi and automatically defers to whichever connection is the strongest.

Accuracy: Location information is precise, down to 5-meter accuracy and is reported based on the closest signaling beacon.

Training: Hotels are assigned a Relay Customer Success Manager who leads training and onboarding. Training is broken down into two one-hour sessions that cover communication and associate alert installation and functionality.

For more information, visit www.relaypro.com/location-and-safety.

ROAR for Good: Always On™

Key features:
  • Easy to install, use and maintain
  • Patented mesh technology requires no drilling
  • Operates on batteries that last three to five years
  • No single points of failure, so that even if a Smart Node fails, integrity remains because the network is meshed
  • Reporting updates provider responders with real-time information

How it works: ROAR offers three service levels: Wi-Fi, Ethernet and LTE. Wi-Fi and Ethernet use the hotel’s network on a secure VPN. ROAR’s LTE network capabilities enable the solution to operate independently, even if the network is down. Additionally, the LTE transmitter is in a fixed location with a persistent quality signal and not wandering in and out of dead zones. Alerts are sent to the fixed LTE through the ROAR network.

Accuracy: Employees can be pinpointed by room or hallway location.

Training: Easy-to-use system requires minimal training. Company offers multi-lingual posters.

For more information, visit www.roarforgood.com.

TraknProtect: Panic Button and IoT Platform

Key features:
  • Easy to install without taking rooms out of inventory
  • No extensive cabling or hardwiring required
  • Multiple formats for alerts, including SMS, push notifications, desktop alerts and emails
  • One-click activation alerts designated staff that an employee needs help
  • App enables users to records notes, pictures and files

How it works: The TraknProtect platform utilizes a network of BLE/Wi-Fi gateways that continuously gather real-time data from front-line employee safety buttons and sensors to triangulate and provide accurate location of those devices and thus of hotel employees. The company also provides an integrated solution that leverages existing wireless access points to deliver seamless service. For hotels that prefer not to use their Wi-Fi networks, TraknProtect implements an LTE infrastructure and delivers the solution over a private LTE network.

Accuracy: TraknProtect provides accuracy by room number or within five to 10 feet of the distressed employee.

Training: A short training session shows hotel staff how to activate the solution and when to trigger the button. For security responders, a one-hour session addresses how to respond to alerts, how to end alerts, how to document incidents and how to download reports. In addition, an online training platform allows hotels to track employee training dates for annual refresher courses.

For more information, visit www.traknprotect.com/safety-buttons.

Fran Worrall is the features editor at Hospitality Upgrade. She can be reached at Fran@hospitalityupgrade.com.

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