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October 2, 2015

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Protecting lone workers: does your business measure up?

By Mathew Colley

It’s easy to ask whether your organisation is doing enough to protect lone workers, but it can be a difficult question to answer. Businesses looking for guidance will quickly discover that no laws specifically govern lone working.

Instead, just as for any other staff members, employers have a responsibility under multiple pieces of legislation to “consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone”.

While the duty of care to lone workers may seem only loosely defined, the penalties are very real. The Crown Prosecution Service has said that fines for corporate manslaughter “will seldom be less than £500,000”. Even in less extreme cases, the Health and Safety Executive puts the direct cost of managing and investigating a serious incident at up to £19,000, not including potential legal costs and fines. Worse, all of this doesn’t take into account the indirect business costs of incidents, such as negative publicity, reduced staff morale and lost productivity.

With up to 160 attacks on lone workers every day and a 40% increase in corporate manslaughter prosecutions in recent years, no organisation can afford to be one of the 36% of UK businesses inadequately protecting lone workers today.

Raising the bar

While the legal requirements for supporting lone workers may be non-prescriptive, there are actionable standards that every business should aim to fulfil. Take a look at our check-list below to see how your organisation measures up:

  • Do you know the risks? No organisation can take steps to avoid or control dangers to lone workers until it understands them. Regular risk assessments are an essential first step, allowing foreseeable hazards to be identified. The specific risks to your lone workers will depend on your industry and their day-to-day duties, but could include perils like working at height, handling dangerous materials, or slips, trips and falls. Legally, employers with five or more workers must record the significant findings of all risk assessments.
  • Have you taken action? Once the risks have been identified, you should take concrete steps to avoid or control them. For instance, you might decide to limit the activities employees can undertake alone, assign supervision for workers with known health conditions, or put in place a new communications policy to ensure lone workers check-in regularly. Meanwhile, emergency plans must also be agreed and lone workers need to understand them.
  • Are employees involved? By law, you should consult all employees on health and safety issues. This process can also help you identify potential hazards and confirm that appropriate safety measures have been taken. While employees should never be the ones deciding if they need support, workers do have a responsibility to co-operate with your efforts, take reasonable care of themselves and safeguard any other people affected by their work. 
  • Are employees trained? It’s your obligation to ensure employees are competent in their roles and can recognise when to seek advice. For instance, workers should be fully trained to operate any vehicles or machinery needed in the course of their work. You could also consider personal safety, conflict resolution or first aid classes to better prepare your lone workers to cope with sudden emergencies in the field.
  • Have you deployed safety technologies? It’s crucial that your business can monitor and communicate with lone workers effectively. Judicious use of the right tools can help, dramatically improving lone worker protection at little additional cost. For instance, you can improve safety via the smartphones employees already own. The LoneALERT smartphone app is easy to install and supports scheduled check-ins, panic alarms and GPS location tracking. 
  • Are you constantly improving? Safety is never something you can set and forget. Instead, ensure managers and supervisors have the tools they need to monitor safety policies, procedures and training on a continuous basis. Web or app-based management suites, such as that included with the LoneALERT smartphone app, offer a fast and cost-effective way to let lone workers report accidents or near misses and preserve supervisor findings for future audit and review.

Whether you checked-off every item above or are yet to implement your first risk assessment, protecting lone workers should never be seen as a simple matter of legal compliance. In the final analysis, your business has a moral obligation to protect its employees, so don’t just ask “Is it legal?”, also demand “Is it safe?”.

Mathew Colley PhotoMathew Colley works for LoneALERT, the UK’s leading provider of lone worker protection solutions, offering a range of lone worker alarms, man-down devices and solutions to protect staff who work remotely, alone or who are vulnerable.

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