How to create a culture of personal safety to protect lone workers
Employers need to take more proactive steps to ensure that processes are in place to protect lone workers, Saskia Garner, Policy Officer at The Suzy Lamplugh Trust told the Safety & Health Expo.
The Trust is named after the 25-year-old estate agent who disappeared in 1986 after going out to conduct a viewing in West London. The alarm that Suzy hadn’t been seen wasn’t raised until late in the day, and despite huge media coverage and police activity, Suzy was never found.
Suzy’s parents established the Trust to raise awareness of personal safety. It now carries out training on personal safety & lone working issues and stalking and hosts the national stalking helpline. It also campaigns on the issue and has created a National Personal Safety Day to raise awareness of the risks of lone working.
Garner told the Safety & Health Expo’s Lone Worker Theatre that often companies don’t even know that they are responsible for lone workers: “Sometimes people say to us ‘I didn’t think I had lone workers, we’re in an office’.
“But if you are out of sight, without contact with other people, you are a lone worker. Receptionists on the ground floor of an office block, for example, often work alone and are the first point of contact with clients and members of public coming in off the street.”
Lone workers are at risk of verbal abuse, insults and aggression from patents, clients, family members and staff, but also face a number of other dangers like fire hazards, pets, poor hygiene, stalking, knives and guns and unsafe physical environments, Garner added.
There are a number of steps that both employers and employees can take to embed a culture of personal safety, said Garner.
From an employer perspective, it is essential that staff are adequately trained, know what the risks might be and can look out for them. Employers also have a responsibility to investigate and report incidents, both to authorities like the police and HSE, and to other employees, so that they can adjust their expectations and react to clients and scenarios appropriately.
Most important is to have a plan and policy for lone working that everyone in the organisation is familiar with, so that when situations arise, everyone can act correctly.
“When we talk to employees, they often say they think there’s a policy but don’t know where it is. If nobody knows about the policy, it’s not going to work. If it doesn’t reflect the situation on the ground, nobody is going to feel like it relates to them.”
A policy created through open dialogue with employees will reflect reality and is more likely to result in buy-in from staff.
Making sure that lone workers feel safe in their roles is vital for keeping them safe, but also for protecting their wellbeing: “We know that if people aren’t feeling safe in their jobs they will perhaps start feeling stressed, won’t enjoy going into their jobs and won’t be as confident as they should be.” Discussion with workers can reveal what issues are causing stress. It could be a lack of dialogue with managers or dealing with aggravated clients. This, says Garner, should be part of any assessment.
Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety
To mark the 30th anniversary of Suzy’s disappearance in 1986, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust carried out a survey of the housing sector to assess how employees feel about the risk at work.
Among housing agencies the survey found that 2,367 instances of assault were recorded in 2015, 90% of which were verbal. 69% of respondents said that they had been verbally assaulted in the past 12 months and nine said that they had been taken hostage. 31% of landlords said that they had been verbally abused by a tenant and 1 in 4 members of the public felt that property viewings needed to be made safer.
Reflecting on the results, Garner said: “We were dismayed to find that incidents of violence were still prevalent across so many sectors. We looked at these results and felt there was a need to bring together practical tips and developed Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety.”
This code provides seven simple steps for any lone working employer to put in place. “By following these steps we know where our colleagues are at any one time. When there have been security scares in London we have been able to know our employees are safe within minutes.”
- Implement a buddy system – Calendars change, the people that workers go out to meet change, and sometimes they don’t arrive. This system can record more closely, simply by filling in a slip every time they go out, details like the route taken, transport taken to get there, when they’re expected, where exactly it is and how to contact them.
- Have a system in place for colleagues to rise the alarm – It is important that colleagues at the office know when you feel in danger. The Trust suggests a simple red and blue file system. If a lone worker feels like a situation could escalate, but doesn’t want to alert the threat, they can phone the office and ask them to complete a task involving a blue file, alerting them to check back in five minutes. The same procedure with a red file means there is an emergency situation that needs a response.
- Have a clear procedure – Do you know what to do if a colleague doesn’t return on time? How to contact them and who to tell?
- Arrange for viewers to visit the office first – Having clients or tenants visit the office means that colleagues can become familiar with their face in case an incident occurs.
- Offer all staff a personal safety alarm – Loud alarms can temporarily disarm a threat, providing an extra second to get away in an emergency. They are not a deterrent. Lone worker devices are also available, discreetly calling a helpline and transmitting audio so they can assess the situation and response needed.
- Find out who else will be present in the property – If the lone worker is a carer and a family member is there it may make them uneasy and the situation more unpredictable. Knowing this beforehand help them to prepare for that.
- Make sure all staff are aware of and have access to the personal safety measures available.
Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing
Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.
This free director’s briefing contains:
- Key points;
- Recommendations for employers;
- Case law;
- Legal duties.