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May 8, 2014

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Lone working: using technology in your strategy

 

Rachel Griffin, director, Suzy Lamplugh Trust

 

Electronic lone worker systems can do a lot to improve the safety of lone workers. However it’s important that they are used only as part of an overall lone worker strategy and not as a solution on their own.

The initial steps that should be carried out to produce a robust and practical lone worker strategy are:

  • Create a safety policy: A personal safety policy is a written statement of intent that outlines what actions an organisation will undertake to fulfill its legal obligations towards managing personal safety risks to its staff. It provides a framework from which procedures and guidelines can be developed.
  • Carry out risk assessments in order to identify the risks involved in the tasks the lone workers undertake.
  • Take action to either eliminate any identified risk by eliminating the associated task, or introduce systems and procedures that will reduce the risk until the level of residual risk is considered acceptable.

Once risk assessments have been carried out and procedures and guidelines are put in place to reduce any identified risk, then the residual risk should be addressed. This is the time to consider any training or technology — and not before.  If an employer introduces a new technical system or staff training, without going through the other steps first, then they could be found liable if an incident happened, for not accepting that their work systems were inherently unsafe.

No matter how thorough an organisation’s risk assessments are and how well designed their procedures and guidelines, risk can rarely be totally eliminated when dealing with the public and their employees could still find themselves facing violence or aggression.  Therefore it is important that they are given training in how to defuse aggression or escape from a potentially violent incident.

If employees are taught how to recognize the early warning signs of aggression, they can often defuse the situation and prevent it from escalating into violence.  Suzy Lamplugh Trust would always recommend personal safety training for staff whose job involved dealing with the public — and in particular lone workers who do not have the back up of colleagues, management or security in these situations.

Having reduced the risks and trained the relevant employees in how to defuse an aggressive incident, the employer could then think about introducing a tracing/alarm system if they still felt it necessary. These systems cannot prevent an employee from being involved in an aggressive or violent incident, nor can they help the employee to deal with one. However they can alert colleagues that there is a problem and ensure that help can get to the employee in as short a time as possible. This can make all the difference to the outcome of an incident so they are well worth considering.

Choosing a lone worker system

There are a variety of tracing systems available, ranging from low cost, low tech systems based around a simple appointments diary or white board which can easily be set up internally, to hi-tech systems involving radios and mobile phones.

In order to decide which, if any, would be the best system for your organisation, you should check what features they provide and how they meet your particular needs. Involve the staff who will be using the system in this procedure. They are the ones who will be able to tell you whether or not it is practical or whether it is too complicated or time-consuming. Listen to them — you might think you are doing the right thing for your staff by buying the ‘best’, most hi tech, amazing tracing system on the market but it will be worthless if the staff won’t use it.

If you favour one particular system, ask for a demonstration and see if it is available for you to trial. Also, find out if you can talk to another organisation that is already using the system. This can give you valuable insight into the system’s pros and cons.

When putting the system in place it’s important that your whole team buy into it. Everyone involved in using and monitoring the system needs to understand and value it, in order to ensure that it is effective.

Once the system is up and working you need to evaluate it on a regular basis. You can’t afford to just put it in place and then assume that everything is working fine. Check that employees are happy and confident with using it. This is especially relevant if you have a high turnover of staff, as new staff may show greater resistance since they were not in on the original decision-making process.

Technology can play a vital part in improving the personal safety of staff but only if it is introduced for the right reasons and as part of an overall personal safety strategy. If not chosen correctly, introduced sensitively and evaluated regularly, it can prove to be a very costly mistake. Therefore it pays to take your time and put in the research in order to get it right.

Five things to consider when choosing a lone worker system

For more safety in the workplace advice and a directory of Lone Worker Systems, visit www.suzylamplugh.org

A guide to home working

This hub has been put together by SHP, Barbour EHS and The Healthy Work Company to provide research, case studies, videos and resources to enable you to lead this transition in a way which safeguards the wellbeing of your teams and maximises the opportunity to embrace new ways of working for the future.

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