Right now, I’m lone working. Granted, the security of my home office probably isn’t causing my employer sleepless nights, but I’m lone working nonetheless. Lone workers come in many different guises, and with new Sentencing Council guidelines for breaches of Duty of Care coming into force on Monday 1 February, it has arguably never been more pertinent for employers to widen their definition of ‘lone worker’ and understand the risks such employees confront on a daily basis, writes Helen Down.
Being a lone worker doesn’t necessarily mean working in complete isolation. While the term is commonly associated with anyone working away from other colleagues, lone workers may very well operate in highly populated areas or alongside clients and customers.
They may only spend part of their day alone, perhaps while travelling between meetings or working out of earshot of other people on a building site.
In days gone by, I’ve heard these employees referred to as ‘accidental lone workers’. That description is very apt. It’s this group of employees that are not always considered within lone working policies, but as legislation and sentencing evolves, it’s wise for employers to take a closer look at their entire workforce and their working patterns in order to check that everyone’s covered.
Pinpointing the main risks
What, then, are the main risks involved with lone working?
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Health and Safety Statistics Annual Report for Great Britain 2014-2015 recently revealed the most commonly cited risk factors employees face in the workplace. The report outlines the findings of a national survey of workplaces employing five or more employees.
It emerges that the biggest risk factor across all workplaces is ‘dealing with difficult customers, patients and pupils’ (65%), which the HSE itself has highlighted as a potential risk in terms of threats and violence towards employees.
Physical risks – including lifting/moving (59%), chemical/biological substances (52%), repetitive movements and slips (50%) and trips and falls (49%) – make up the majority of the other risks listed.
Being a lone worker doesn’t increase the likelihood of the majority of the risks outlined above – although employees are more vulnerable when dealing with difficult people alone – but it does mean that, if an incident occurs, there isn’t anyone else to de-escalate the situation or summon help.
Steps to be taken
As an employer, how can you protect your employees who work or travel alone? There are a number of steps which could be taken in order to reduce both the chances of an incident occurring and the severity of the outcome.
Risk assessments should be carried out before and after a lone worker enters their field of operation in order to ascertain whether it’s safe to send them out alone and underpin the development of a policy for dealing with potential risks.
Talk to line managers who are closer to the business’ day-to-day working patterns and think outside of traditional lone working roles. Are there other employees who could be vulnerable?
Tailored lone worker policy
In truth, a blanket policy is rarely sufficient. Policies on dealing with risk should be tailored to each individual lone working task.
Training can be extremely helpful in providing lone workers with an understanding of the risks they face and how to deal with them. Whether this is how to operate a piece of machinery safely or de-escalating an uncomfortable client situation, there are many training programmes available that can be tailored to your individual business’ needs.
Lone worker monitoring
As part of the company’s lone worker policy, the employer may choose to implement a monitoring system. While many businesses already operate a ‘buddy’ or check-in system, monitoring solutions – such as tracking devices, panic buttons and apps – can provide both a reliable and time-effective solution for lone worker safety.
While monitoring doesn’t prevent accidents or incidents from happening, it’s extremely effective in limiting the severity of a situation by providing immediate contact and allowing for a much quicker emergency response time.
Helen Down is Director of StaySafe