Safety is a huge issue for employers that manage workers that operate by themselves or without direct supervision. And with statistics suggesting that almost 38.8 million working days are lost each year due to ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries, its never been more important to consider workplace safety. (Health and safety at work Summary statistics for Great Britain 2020 – Health and Safety Executive)
And while there isn’t currently evidence to suggest that lone workers are exposed to a higher risk of accidents, working alone does increase their vulnerability to differing degrees depending on the nature and whereabouts of the work. Carers visiting other peoples homes and cleaners handling heavy equipment or hazardous chemicals present inherently risky challenges that must be considered carefully by employers.
Establishing a healthy and safe working environment for lone workers can be different from organising the health and safety of other workers.
Risks that particularly affect lone workers include:
- Stress and anxiety – working alone without direct support can contribute to or exacerbate mental health conditions.
- The workplace itself – whether its someone else’s home or a commercial premises with unfamiliar equipment or procedures, different locations can present varying degrees of risk.
- Violence or conflict in the workplace. From encounters with strangers, while travelling to and from locations late at night, to confrontations with clients, lone workers can often experience challenging situations unique to their role.
What can be done to promote better lone worker safety?
Minimising the risk to lone workers
Think about the skills, strengths and weaknesses of each lone worker. How would they deal with a stressful situation, make a tough decision, or solve a conflict? Think about:
- How experienced is the worker in their role and in working alone?
- Has the worker received relevant training?
- Be aware of situations where a worker might be more vulnerable, for example, newly-qualified workers or workers who are pregnant may experience additional risks. You may need to carry out additional risk assessments or refer to specific guidelines.
Is there any additional training, mentoring or support you can offer to ensure that any safety concerns are addressed?
Assessing the environment and equipment
Consider the environment the worker is in, especially if it is at an unfamiliar or remote workplace:
- Does the workplace present a specific risk to the worker, such as operating equipment alone or lifting heavy objects?
- Is the work in a rural or isolated area?
- Is there a safe way in or out for one person working outside normal hours?
If the workplace belongs to a client, make sure to collaborate – ask for their risk assessments to ensure that you are covering all bases.
Keeping in contact with lone workers
Daily catchup ups, a weekly one-to-one, or instant messaging? It’s important to outline how you intend to keep in contact with the lone worker from the outset.
- Agree on how to keep in touch with lone workers through regular meetings, or provide other opportunities to share concerns.
- Include lone workers in social events and team updates.
- Ensure lone workers are included in any consultation on changes – for eg, introducing new software, hardware or changes to processes.
Using a dedicated workforce management system could help – ensuring that instant communication, tasks and business updates are easily and efficiently shared.
Providing support for mental health
Lone working can also aggravate pre-existing conditions, and problems at work can bring on symptoms or make their effects worse. Employers should consider:
- Evaluating shift data to identify unusual patterns in behaviour.
- Celebrating success and compliments.
- Regular surveys to get a feeling for staff sentiment.
While most of these suggestions can be carried out using traditional processes – information may be siloed in multiple different systems, making it difficult to keep admin efficient. Think about bringing it all together with a dedicated workforce management system.
Monitor lone worker location
- Will the lone worker be reporting in during the night?
- Is the worker going into someone else’s home or premises?
- Did they arrive at the right location at the right time?
Instead of conventional ‘phone call’ check-ins, workforce management software can log arrival and departure data of staff to a shift in real-time, meaning management can be alerted should any discrepancies occur.
What’s more, GPS capabilities mean that it is possible to track the location of the lone workers, again bringing any concerning incidents to light.
Managing lone workers is complex, but with the right strategy and processes in place, lone workers can feel just as safe in their jobs as any other type of employee. And it can all start with digital transformation.
Want to know more about the benefits of remote workforce management software? Take a look at our dedicated resource guide.