Thousands of Tax Office staff will be given panic buttons on mobile phones in response to security fears.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has put out the call for a service provider to create a “duress system” capable of being worn by staff that allows their location to be pinpointed to within 10 metres.

The ATO also wants the ability to monitor staff and send real-time messages in the event of an emergency.

“The Australian Tax Office takes the health and safety of our workers seriously and has a range of measures in place to protect them, including different strategies for staff working in areas where they may be exposed to greater risk, or have greater concern for their health and safety,” an ATO spokesperson has told reporters.

“The ATO will not use a smartphone duress application to monitor staff movements, unless expressly requested by the individual staff member.

“The intent is to leverage opportunities to assist managing the general hazards and risks faced by a diverse and mobile workforce interacting with a wide variety of clients.”

The call for a duress system was not triggered by a single security incident, but acknowledges the general fact that technology can benefit staff.

“This includes staff engaged in field work at locations that are remote from ATO sites, staff working in shopfronts, or higher-risk operational staff investigating potential criminal activity, as well as those required to travel within Australia and overseas for business purposes,” the spokesperson said.

Any successful company must comply with the Privacy Act and protect the names, email addresses and phone numbers of staff.

Public servants in some offices face frequent physical and verbal threats from the public.

Centrelink service centres already have duress alarms that can alert police to security threats.

Centrelink staff also receive “advanced customer aggression training” in the wake of public outrage over the robo-debt debacle.

The Community and Public Sector Union says it is consulting staff on whether they are comfortable with the duress system.