Sadly, there are certain situations when lone working has led to disaster, writes Helen Down. In 2006, mental health worker Ashleigh Ewing was stabbed to death by a schizophrenic client in his home. In 2013, Andrew Locovou was murdered by a customer while single-manning a betting shop late in the evening. Following on from these tragedies, it has since been ruled that the organisations involved should have conducted more stringent risk assessments and lone working should not have been permitted.
Certain environments increase risk to employees where customers or the public are more likely to become upset, aggressive or take advantage of a lone worker. Environments where alcohol, gambling and/or money are involved as well as sensitive social work can cause sudden mood changes. It’s often the lone worker who faces the backlash and are left dealing with the customer or patient on their own.
As I touched upon earlier, there have been many examples of tragic attacks on lone workers in the news over the last ten years. Let’s look in a little more detail at the episodes involving Ashleigh Ewing and Andrew Locovou.
Ashleigh Ewing (2006)
In 2006, mental health charity worker Ashleigh Ewing was sent to the home of a paranoid schizophrenic to deliver him a letter informing him that he was in debt.
Ronald Dixon, who had a known history of mental health issues, became angered and stabbed Ashleigh 39 times with kitchen knives and a pair of scissors. This was just months after Dixon had made an attempt to kill Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Mental Health Matters had not carried out a risk assessment on Dixon for three years. Had a risk assessment been conducted, and Dixon’s mental state taken into consideration, Ewing would not have been sent to his house alone and her tragic murder would have been avoided.
A report following the murder even stated: “It’s the view of the panel that if a robust risk assessment had been completed, including a consideration of the lone working policy, such lone working would have been abandoned and joint visits implemented.”
Andrew Locovou (2013)
In 2010, Ladbrokes introduced single-manning in its outlets as a way of reducing costs and increasing profits. This meant that employees were expected to man a betting shop on their own for all or part of the working day.
With shops typically being open until 10.00 pm, that policy left employees alone late in the evening with potentially frustrated and desperate customers in front of them.
Three years after this lone working policy was introduced, Andrew Locovou was brutally battered to death with a hammer while working alone. Shafique Ahmad Aarij had lost a large amount of money on the machines and, angered by the situation, murdered Locovou before stealing £296 from the shop till.
Shockingly, this was one of ten serious attacks perpetrated on Ladbrokes staff over this time. In 2015, another young worker was attacked, dragged to an office that wasn’t monitored, raped and left for dead by a customer after he too had lost a large amount of money.
Again, both of these attacks would have been avoided had appropriate Health and Safety procedures been carried out by the business.
Allowing employees to work alone in a potentially dangerous environment was not the only failing. Andrew Locovou had pressed a panic alarm in the store during the attack which alerted Head Office, but the police were not called. The rape victim stated afterwards that she had not been given any training and did not know what to do if a customer was losing a lot of money.
As a result, Ladbrokes is still facing court procedures three years on. A life has been lost and several others have been changed forever.
Safe to work alone?
Clearly, in the above examples lone working should not have been permitted and, in some environments, and no matter how stringent the risk assessment or the safety measures put in place, the risk is too great.
Conversely, for many organisations lone working safely increases productivity, flexibility and reduces costs.
So how can you assess the risks your lone workers and make the all-important judgement call?
The first and most important step towards determining whether your employees are safe to work alone is carrying out a thorough risk assessment for each employee/environment as appropriate. If the risks identified through the process are too high or uncontrollable you must not let your employees work alone under any circumstance.
If, however, steps can be taken to reduce risk to a controllable level in line with legislation, it may be safe to allow your employees to work alone following the implementation of a strong lone worker policy.
Know your legislation
There are several laws which hold the employer responsible for protecting the safety of everyone in their employment: the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
In the case that a lone worker is threatened, attacked or injured at work, legal procedures could cost the business in fines, resources and time, with cases taking months or even years to complete.
In some instances, the employer could also face prosecution and imprisonment if they are found to be at fault. You can read our guide to UK law here
Training should always be provided for lone workers to allow them to handle any risks they may face. When working with customers alone, training should be given on recognising danger signs and de-escalating a situation.
Accurate and consistent monitoring is important in managing the safety of lone workers. Organisations should put systems and technology in place such that employees can quickly communicate with their employer and raise the alarm if needed.
Businesses should also be aware of exactly where their staff are at any given moment. It’s not unusual for organisations to GPS track (with the employees consent) their lone working staff in order to monitor their safety and dispatch help immediately if needed.
There must also be someone available to respond to incidents at all times. If your business operates outside of normal working hours, such as at evenings and during weekends, you could consider outsourcing your monitoring and response provision.
While we can learn from the tragic deaths of Ashleigh Ewing and Andrew Locovou, businesses cannot afford to wait for something like this to happen to their members of staff before taking action.
For the sake of your business (and, crucially, your employees), make any necessary assessments and changes now before an incident occurs.
Helen Down is Director of StaySafe