Lone workers: how do we support their health and wellbeing, Dr. Joanne Crawford
Dr Joanne Crawford is head of Ergonomics and Human Factors for Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) and has more than 20 years’ experience in higher education and research.
Ahead of her presentation at Safety & Health Expo, we asked her to tell us about some of the issues that lone workers face and how employers can better support their health and wellbeing.
Dr Crawford will be speaking 20th June, 15:50 – 16:20 Lone Worker Theatre at Safety & Health Expo 2017. Register to attend here.
Can you give me an overview of the impact that lone working has on individuals’ wellbeing and mental health?
This often depends on the context of the work are there are lone workers who are out driving all day or meeting with clients/customers. Health and wellbeing impacts in the group we studied included musculoskeletal symptoms (back, knees, right elbow associated with higher mileage) and psychological distress (over 60% of sample); however the sample size was small. There are concerns that for those lone workers who are home workers, that there can be sense of isolation away from the workplace.
I know you have carried out research through the Institute of Occupational Medicine into the physical and mental health of lone workers. Looking at the research, were there particular elements identified that increase the risks to lone workers’ mental health and wellbeing?
While our research examined both mental and physical health, factors associated with poorer mental health were fatigue, poor health symptoms, increased contact with managers and higher number of hours driving. However, more in-depth analysis from the General Health Questionnaire identified that a lack of contact with managers was associated with increased social dysfunction and a lack of contact with colleagues with increased anxiety and depression on the questionnaire.
In your experience; are organisations fully aware of the potential harm to lone workers’ mental health and wellbeing?
Most organisations are aware of the need for risk assessment of physical and psychosocial risks but actually managing this with lone workers can be problematic. There is a need to provide a safe workplace wherever your employees are based and there is the risk that lone workers may be exposed to hazards that the employer is unaware of; be they physical or psycho-social risks.
Thinking specifically about mental health and wellbeing; what steps can organisations take to support their lone workers?
Ensuring lone workers in whatever type of work have the same access to support, guidance and are involved in the organisation to the same extent as those in the workplace.
How can we encourage more organisations to take active steps?
Possibly developing a charter to show their lone workers that they are considered in the same way as other workers and ensuring that information is presented to them about routes to support and access to training. Ensuring line managers are given guidance in managing lone workers and finding the best way for continuous communication between the worker and the workplace.
Dr Joanne is a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors specialist and a a Fellow of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors. She has more than 20 years’ experience working in higher education as a lecturer and senior lecturer in ergonomics and since re-joining IOM in 2007, in research. Her research has included systematic reviews covering topics such as ageing and work, mental well-being, firefighter health risks and the health of health professionals. She has also carried out research with groups including remote and mobile workers and telecommunication workers. Her research work has been supported by different sources including IOSH, BOHRF, DH, the European Commission and other industry sources.
To see Dr. Joanne Crawford speak about Lone Working at Safety & Health Expo register for the event here.