We may associate lone workers with some guy who works from home in his basement (maybe in his underpants) on some sort of tech job, but there are more people classed as “lone workers” than one would think. Nearly 6.8 million workers work alone. Anyone from security to some outdoor workers, even nurses and teachers are considered lone workers. Whilst no specific law dictates that workers cannot work alone, the Health and Safety Executive dictates that lone workers should not be at any more risk than any other worker. Here’s how to keep lone workers safe.
By law, employers must conduct a health and safety assessment before lone workers venture out on their own. Even if your workplace already has a policy in place, does it cover lone workers, and does it take into account new places of work? If not, then your policy will need an update, and you’ll need to assess the lone working hazards, understanding how best to keep these lone workers safe, especially if they work outdoors.
Who is considered a Lone Worker?
As stated earlier, there are many employees who are considered lone workers, which include some of the following professions:
- Care workers
- Public transport drivers
- Catering staff
- Retail workers
- Lorry workers
- Social workers
- Leisure service providers
- Window cleaners
- Tree surgeons
- Construction workers
- Affiliated marketers
- Energy industry workers
- Land managers
- Refinery workers
- Traveling salesmen
- Repair technicians
- Real estate agents
- Service station attendants
- Self-employed people
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s easy to see that many professions fall into the lone working category, so make sure you’re providing appropriate safety measures for any lone workers on your team (or for yourself).
What are the Risks of Lone Work?
There are many hazards that lone workers face - from verbal and physical abuse in public facing jobs to the hazards of the outdoors. Lone workers can be in danger of slips, trips, and falls; susceptible to illness or injury; and have additional risks depending on their specific field.
For example, oil rig workers, in the middle of the ocean will have additional risks that, say, a cleaner might not have, but each job comes with its own associated risks. Night security guards, whilst indoors, may be more susceptible to verbal and physical abuse than a writer, teacher, or real-estate agent, but those other three professions, have their own risks too and that’s where your health and safety assessment comes in.
Understand and Manage the Risks
Lone workers in particular (because they aren’t accountable to anyone per se), should understand the importance of any mandatory PPE provided. They also need to understand - when working outside - the dangers of working in the rain, the cold, or in the heat. There will be no one there to monitor them and call an ambulance if they have severe heat stroke, if their internal body temperature drops to unsafe levels, or if they slip and fall on wet leaves.
Lone workers must understand the dangers and take every precaution to minimise and manage risks, just as employers are legally obligated to assess those risks and provide safety measures. In short, lone workers must be cooperative and take reasonable care of themselves by wearing appropriate outdoor protective gear such as safety harnesses for working at heights or slip-resistant work boots.
Appropriate Safety Measures
Make sure all lone workers have a fully-charged mobile phone on them, and check that there is signal so calls can be made both incoming and outgoing. If there is no telephone available, make sure there is another worker (or group) who check on this worker at specified intervals (may be every hour) to make sure safety is maintained. You may also agree to fit some sort of GPS trackers on lone workers if they are working, say, deep in the woods and no one has heard from them - or use transistor radios.
For those lone workers who work in and around people’s homes, think window cleaners, builders, and so on, then they will need regular access to their mobile phones or emergency buttons in situations where they feel threatened and unsafe. According to the British Crime Survey, nearly 150 lone workers are attacked both physically and verbally each day, and HSE case studies note the psychological impact of negative environments on lone workers.
Make sure someone knows where every lone worker is at any given time. The lone worker (him or herself) should also notify family members not just supervisors or coworkers regarding where they are at all times. This acts as a precaution if their point of contact is not readily available.
Lone workers should be trained in emergency procedures and what to do in case of emergency. Lone workers need access to first aid facilities, and to call emergency services if they need. Training should also include what equipment (PPE, GPS, or tracking applications) lone workers need in order to keep safe, as well as how to use and maintain that equipment, and who to report to when they change locations. Lone workers and employers must know when work cannot be performed alone - when it’s too high risk to do so - and act accordingly.
Since lone workers are often victimised, it’s important to allow lone workers to have a support network made of other lone workers and management. It’s important to listen to lone worker’s concerns and address any issues they may have. In the event of an attack or incident it can cost your company up to £19,000 to investigate that incident of violence, so if at all possible it’s important to make sure incidents do not happen at all.
If you have workers who work solo, make sure to provide the maximum amount of protection you can, and make sure they understand their responsibilities too.
Make sure you’re giving your lone workers the right PPE equipment.