As more people work alone, so do the potential risks.
These risks include violence, aggression, and falling ill while working unsupervised.
Stevie Goodman discusses the risks and various protective devices to mitigate them.
According to the Office of National Statistics, there are upto nine million lone workers in the UK. While working alone is not legally prohibited, employers are responsible for identifying hazards and assessing the potential risks involved under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Lone workers are exposed to two types of risks: social risks, such as the threat of violence and aggression, and environmental risks, such as working in hazardous, unhygienic, or isolated conditions. To mitigate these risks, employers can provide training on personal safety, conflict management, and lone working, in addition to information and guidance on safe systems of work, effective communication and protective lone working devices.
So who classifies as a lone worker? Social workers, security guards, district nurses, transport workers, cleaners, laboratory staff, construction site workers and sales reps, to name but a few. Ever stayed later than everyone else in the office to complete an assignment before a deadline? Well on that occasion, you would classify as a lone worker. In essence, we all at some time in our working lives classify as a lone worker.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”. Lone workers are isolated from the normal support mechanisms that other fixed-based employees enjoy. Lone working may be for all or part of the working day. Some may experience lone working for short periods of their working days, eg office staff interviewing a potential employee or meeting a client, or a surveyor carrying out an inspection alone on-site.
The HSE estimates that it can cost between £17,000 and £19,000 on average to investigate a physical assault; however, the financial implications should an employee suffer a nasty assault can rise to hundreds of thousands in legal fees, claimant awards and lost time due to absence.
There are a number of innovative products available to assist lone workers on the market. With so many options, the process of choosing a lone worker device that is fit for purpose can be a task in itself.
Firstly, lone workers and the potential risks they are likely to be exposed to need to be identified: who are they and what do they do? A risk assessment will identify risks based on:
A risk assessment will also define the level of risk — low, medium or high — and take into account the existing measures in place to mitigate risk.
The type of device will depend on the user, nature of risks and where/how it will be used. For example, front facing lone workers are best suited to devices that are discreet, with easy to access panic buttons and recording capabilities. Mobile lone workers will be more likely to need a device that includes GPS, “man-down” and check-in/out functionality.
Employee buy-in is essential. Getting lone workers to have a say in the choices made will encourage use of any future device, highlight areas of safety that the wider organisation had not thought about and reaffirm the organisation’s efforts to keep employees safe while at work. Furthermore, users need to be comfortable using the chosen device and not made to feel like it is another way of tracking their whereabouts.
Lone working devices are sophisticated, offering a range of mechanisms and are available in an array of guises:
Typical functions and services include the following.
Before any product demonstration or trial is arranged, it is advisable to consider some key features. The battery life of any separate device is a crucial concern, especially for lone workers who are away from office sites and charging points.
If a BS 8484 (Code of Practice for the provision of lone worker device services) standard device is required, it is worth checking if the ARC personnel are competent on advising and supporting to BS 8484 standard. A provider should offer management reports to permit organisations to know who is using the device effectively, identify trends and ensure value for money.
Comprehensive face-to-face training prior to roll-out and on-going support is essential as lone workers need to feel confident when using the device. Confirmation of how accurate GPS location services are and the devices’ range should be checked before entering into a contract with a supplier, eg will signals be picked up underground or in busy locations? Quick response times are vital as an employer would want assurances that, should an employee be in danger, he or she will receive immediate assistance.
Finally, it's vital you test any system adopted to certify whether users are comfortable using the chosen device and, ultimately, that it offers the right fit for your business.