Those working alone, outside office hours and in diverse places, are at greater risk than their 9-5 counterparts, so employers must exercise their duty of care, says Arthur Agnew.
19 August 2015 | By Arthur Agnew
Contrary to popular belief, working alone is not against the law. However, the law does require employers to consider carefully any health and safety risks for people working alone.
The UK's Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act makes employers responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. It also makes them responsible for the health and safety of any contractors or self-employed people doing work for them.
Of course, employees who work alone can often face the same hazards in their day as other workers - for example, physical or verbal abuse, racial or sexual harassment, or robbery and intimidation. But for lone workers, the risk of harm is often greater. Hazards facing lone workers include:
- Violence and personal safety - some workers may need to visit customers at home or alternative locations outside the office, which can lead to an increased risk to an individual.
- Lifting and handling - moving and handling tasks may pose more risk to an individual member of staff.
- Working at heights - for example, up a step ladder, closing windows where there is a risk of falling from height.
- Lack of access to emergency help in the case of an accident - access to a first-aider may not be immediate and a lone worker who is injured may have difficulty raising the alarm.
- Ill-health issues - these may be exacerbated where employees undertaking duties suffer from epilepsy, heart conditions or diabetes, etc. Such persons should really be restricted from undertaking lone working activities and in all circumstances; health concerns must be raised with a line manager and GP.
Employers should think about the worst-case scenarios and their probability during a normal day. There's no point worrying too much about your staff member being hit by a meteorite as it is highly unlikely to happen. Instead, think about how to avoid their being involved in a confrontation with a thief or being alone in a risky area.
Remove as many risky procedures and situations as possible. For example, don't send them to a perceived dangerous location. Make sure they take a safe route and lock doors while travelling.
Train employees to reduce risk by looking at safer working practices, wearing personal protective equipment and learning the proper way to deal with complaints and potentially volatile customers.
Consider bringing in third parties to train workers in specialist areas such as working with the public and identifying when situations can turn bad.
Of course, much of the above is common sense, but people can tend to believe they are a little invincible and that bad things will never happen to them, so it's always best to be vigilant and well prepared.
If things go wrong
If an employee does find him or herself in trouble, employers need to consider how they are equipped to summon help. Solutions include the following.
- Implementing regular check calls to a central location. If a call doesn't come in, there should be an immediate escalation.
- Issuing alarming devices. These can be used to send an alarm if an incident occurs, but may not necessarily provide location information. Escalation is usually a call to the user.
- Considering intelligent devices. When an alarm is sent, either by a panic button, man down or non-movement, the location is also transmitted, so a monitoring station can summon the appropriate response - whether that be a line manager, a relative, the emergency services or a mobile response service.
In extreme cases, multiple devices can be which use GPRS, GSM, SMS, GPS, satellite, Wi-Fi and a number of other technologies to ensure accurate alarms get through - even in mountains or at sea.
When considering devices, it's important to consider ease of use. There's no point in providing an employee with a solution that is laborious to use as, chances are that he or she won't bother to use it.
There is also no point providing additional devices when they might be left at home. 'Keys-wallet-phone' is what our brain tells us to check we've picked up before we leave the house each morning.
This is where the importance of convergence comes in. We will soon be opening our cars and turning our house alarms on using our mobile phones and, in the future, ever more solutions will be managed by the same mobile handset.
Lone worker solutions are no different. Indeed, there are already a number of app solutions for the lone worker. The next release of the British Standard for Lone Workers (BS8484) will encompass apps. The key to success is to ensure the app chosen is robust and easy to use but, more importantly, has verifiable escalation and response with it.
Although a low-cost solution informing immediate family members of an alarm will suit some, others will need a 24/7/365 monitoring service because of their risk profile.
Arthur Agnew is chief technology officer at Securitas Security Services UK