In recent weeks I have been asked a few times about lone worker policies by my clients and for tips that employers can give to employees on staying safe when carrying out lone working activities.
Lone workers are defined by the Health and Safety Executive as "those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision."
While the spaceman image accompanying this article may be an unlikely but extreme example of lone working, nearly all businesses include an element of it in their activities.
Employees who act as lone workers do not have colleagues who can help them if they fall, become ill, or suffer from violence or abuse.
Employers have a Duty to identify and minimise risks associated with colleagues who are identified as lone workers, and provide all necessary equipment and practical support. Lone workers have a Duty to protect their own safety.
In a lone worker policy and in risk assessments, employers assess the risks from lone worker activities and implement control measures. Many employers introduce personal alert devices that send a warning to a set number or contact centre pinpointing their location when an alarm is raised or in some cases if there is unusual movement. These can be costly, but are effective if they are correctly worn and monitored, and if incidents and alarms are fully investigated.
But there are many different controls that need not cost anything. Examples may include (depending on the circumstances):
EXAMPLE ONE: Travelling to appointments and meetings
Always ensure that a colleague knows where you are going and when, including when you expect to finish. This could be done via WhatsApp, text or phone call
Message again when you finish at an appointment or if plans change.
If no message is received and there should have been one, the colleague should phone the lone worker. If no answer, escalate to management who should try again to contact the individual. If you cannot get hold of the lone worker and are concerned then either try contacting the client or the police.
EXAMPLE TWO: Entering and working in people’s homes
Always record the name, address, and contact phone numbers of all clients. This should be stored somewhere accessible to colleagues in the event of an emergency.
Always let someone know when you are going to an appointment and arrange to call the office when you leave the property, including a rough time. If for some reason you fail to make this call, your colleagues should contact you to check that everything is ok.
Never offer the client a lift or accept a lift from them to or from the property if you will be the only member of staff in the car. It is always safest to avoid close 1-1 contact where possible.
Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy about anything – whether when first speaking to the client on the phone or when meeting them in person – if you feel uneasy, take action to improve your safety. For example, making a call to a colleague or make an excuse to leave. If unsure ask a colleague to accompany you.
Before attending, ask clients to keep pets out of the way (e.g. in another room).
Always try to sit near to the door you came in through so that you have a route of escape in an emergency.
Record any unsafe visits. If you make a visit that made you feel unsafe or uneasy in any way, this information should always be recorded and stored centrally. When booking future appointments this database can be cross-checked so that appropriate measures can be put in place e.g., conducting the visit with a colleague.
EXAMPLE THREE: Driving for work
If you are driving for work, including between offices, and you are alone in the vehicle, always make sure you lock the car doors and boot before setting off. Most vehicles now do this automatically.
Follow the Highway Code.
If you are involved in an accident or break down, inform your manager as soon as it is safe to do so. If you do not feel safe or are injured, inform the emergency services.
Try to avoid using a mobile telephone when driving, even hands free, unless absolutely essential.
Park in well lit areas close to your destination.
If driving to an evening or weekend meeting, inform a colleague when you are home safe or at your destination.
EXAMPLE FOUR: Lone Working in the office
If you are working alone in the office, only accept visitors by prior appointment. Keep the doors closed and locked, but know how to open them quickly in an emergency.
Keep your mobile phone with you and charged. Ensure colleagues and managers numbers are stored in your phone.
If you feel unwell, contact a colleague immediately.
Maintain at least hourly contact with colleagues.
In the event of a fire evacuation, contact a manager when you are safely at the assembly point. Inform the fire service on arrival that you were the only one in the office.
The above are just examples, and each circumstance requires different controls to be put in place. Whatever the circumstance, the lone worker needs to ensure that they are continually doing a dynamic risk assessment in their head. Remember instinct is key.
There are many organisations that can help with lone woking issues.
Probably the most famous is the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. Their website and team can provide lots of useful information and advice. Visit https://www.suzylamplugh.org for more details.
The Health and Safety Executive provides useful information for employers and lone workers. Visit https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/lone.htm for details.
For information on managing home workers (who are lone workers), visit our blog post from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic at https://www.kshsafety.com/single-post/home-working
Finally, KSH Safety Services offers an Introduction to Personal Safety for Lone Workers online training course, approved by IIRSM and IOSH. More details can be found at https://videotilehost.com/kshsafety/purchaseCourse.php?nid=90 (use code 10KSHOFFER at checkout for 10% discount).