At a recent networking event, I ran an open forum half hour on health and safety issues affecting the (predominantly) small businesses attending. One question that came up was that they were concerned that they were often travelling alone to businesses or customers, and that often there was very little in place to ensure their safety.
The problem of personal safety and lone workers first came to prominence in July 1986, when estate agent Suzy Lamplugh had arranged a house viewing with a man who murdered her. Her body was never found.
Her parents used this horrific experience to form the Suzy Lamplugh Trust in her memory, and to this day the Trust is a world leader on issues relating to lone working.
But what can a small business or sole trader do that is simple to help ensure their safety when going to potential clients on their own? There are lots of cheap or free things you can do - but it needs the co-operation of all people involved for it to work well.
Make sure that you always have a means of communicating with colleagues or those you can trust and that means of communication is charged for use.
Some form of emergency alarm / alert system should be in place which will enable you to summon assistance if necessary. One example, if you have an iPhone, for example, is the Emergency SOS part of the Health app.
Make sure that any cash or valuables is always kept out of sight.
If you work from home, do not advertise that you work from home to prospective clients, and if possible meet them on neutral territory like a cafe.
Set up a buddy system with someone so they know your plans for the day. Suzy Lamplugh Trust recommends asking your ‘buddy’ to call you 10 minutes into any meeting with a new client to check that you are okay and feel comfortable with them. Have a code word ready in case you want to summon help. If clients have to come to your house, use rooms that are as professional looking as possible, preferably where you know the mobile signal is good. If you have a house alarm, consider a panic button in that room.
If you are going to a client or potential client's site, then think before you arrive on how you can get out quickly if you feel uncomfortable. Look how doors open as you enter, and try and sit near the exit doors. Always trust instincts.
It is always important that people know where you are at all times. Employers should assess risks to you when working alone or meeting new people. You, as a lone worker should assess the situation constantly and avoid putting yourself in danger.
Circumstances like that of Suzy Lamplugh are, thankfully, relatively rare, but putting systems in place could help save your life or that of your colleagues. It may not even be because of a dodgy character - but they can help if an employee falls ill or has an accident. Good planning is the key.
KSH Safety Services can help you put a plan together for the personal safety of your lone workers, but its implementation depends on everyone taking part. We offer an introductory e-learning course on the subject, which is available as a free trial before you buy here.
Alternatively, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has a vast amount of resources on their website.
Sources: Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Apple, Videotile Learning.