Lone workers often operate in a quasi-workplace, overseen by regulations and company policy, but appear ungoverned and ungovernable in any practical way. So – how do we support lone workers to keep them safe and feel secure in their working lives?
In this article we’ll set out what a lone worker is, what a lone worker looks like and where they might work, what their risk factors are, and provide some strategies for supporting lone workers as they go about their business.
In all, we’ll develop a picture of the lone worker that’ll be recognisable to you as a safety professional, while seeing from their perspective the hazards that they face and what substantial support for lone workers should look like.
What is a Lone Worker?
A lone worker is any employee that works isolated from other employees, which includes, but isn’t limited to, a social worker, a travelling business person, a teacher or a construction worker.
It’s important to draw a distinction between the isolated way they work and their location, which may include other colleagues and staff. For example, a receptionist may work alone for long parts of the day, but colleagues may pass by irregularly.
This isolated way of working brings with it lots of risk exposure, due to the fact that there are no other colleagues present to assist them if and when required.
Risk Factors for Lone Workers
There are potentially a multitude of risks that a lone worker could be exposed to, but the most frequent types of risks recorded include:
- Risk of violence from the general public, which is higher for some workers than others
- Becoming suddenly ill
- Issues with wellbeing or stress, which can have a detrimental impact on external factors, like increased chance of driving incidents
- Emergency situations arising from work, particularly for those in the construction injury
The way we should work when thinking about the support network for lone workers is to start by categorising everything as high risk, and then work them down to low risk. This might be achieved by teaching lone workers how to start assessing their own risk, for instance.
A lone worker could be taught to understand what their working environment looks like and what risks might be posed by certain people or environments. This helps to reduce that high risk (an agitated, aggressive person) to a lower risk (if the environment was set up to allow for escape).
How to Assess Risk
We teach people to dynamically assess risk at an individual level. That means we have to take into consideration the entire context of an individual’s risk appetite. This might include their education background, the communities and circumstance of their upbringing, their cultural background, their skills, fitness and experience, their personality and the type of work that they do.
For example, a trained military professional will want to assess risk differently to an untrained civilian, who perhaps may be unexperienced in dealing with aggression and hostile environments.
In any situation there could be thousands of risks that an individual must assess. Using the high to low risk system, the individual should start to assess the risks in their environment and aim to quickly categorise those risks. Risks involving other people, potential weapons and one’s environment should be assessed via a dynamic risk assessment, which is called POP, or otherwise known as People, Object, Place.
In a People, Object, Place risk assessment, the individual dynamically assesses the risk of the environment and the people surrounding them. By training lone workers to understand the behavioural and environmental cues that they are immersed in, they can quickly reduce those high-risk elements to a low risk, or create pathways to avoid those risks.
Behavioural assessments like POP help workers to read the cues from people, such as attire, height and weight, age, or behaviour in context (think about the types of behaviour you might expect, and not expect, in a restaurant, for instance).
When trained properly, lone workers can identify risks in the world around them and use their training to avoid, minimise and reduce risks.
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Strategies to Support Lone Workers
How can an organisation support lone workers? Due to the knowledge of working with companies and their lone workers at Cardinus, we know that the best kind of support is a well-thought out and engineered strategy that provides provision and care for isolated staff members, which also helps said employees feel included and cared for.
The basis for a strong strategy is always communication, and this comes from understanding the legislation and Duty of Care and creating and channelling a culture that reaches every part of an organisation.
Key strategies for supporting lone workers:
- Compliance with legislation: If you have lone working staff, do you know your Duty of Care for these employees? Identifying where they are, who they are and lines of communication and management for these staff is vital here. As with any induction of a new strategy, you must ensure policies and procedures are provided to staff. Furthermore, employees need to understand how and where to report safety issues.
- Training and guidance: Training and guidance should align with organisational culture and ethos. Build training, and provide guidance, with your culture in mind, so that supporting safety is blended with the values of the business. Creating a culture encourages everyone to have a voice – not just senior management and the board.
- Good communication models: There are plenty of communication models out there for organisations to utilise, but communicating strategy is a key part of bringing everyone in a business together. Ensure that staff voices are heard by looping in feedback and help staff to communicate concerns for continued improvement of your strategy.
- Monitoring staff: For lone workers, tracking and monitoring of staff can be crucial to help staff feel supported as they navigate their working lives. This can also be vital for emergency response and when employees are in dangerous situations.
It’s important to understand that any lone working strategy is a working document. It should be looked at and reviewed and have a feedback loop for continued improvement. The nature of a strategy will continue to change, but if you’ve got your strategy communication well-oiled, it shouldn’t cause unnecessary stress or concern for lone workers.
It is true that personnel are a company’s main asset, yet we invest more thoroughly in cyber security, CCTV and other technological assets. More value should be placed upon the individual, because with adequate training that main asset can be better protected.
How We Can Help
At Cardinus we help hundreds of companies keep staff safe when working alone via our e-learning training solutions and risk management software. We teach employees the skills they need to assess and mitigate personal risk and enable staff to manage potentially volatile situations and more.
More than just training – our programmes don’t just enable staff to stay safe at work, the training also helps the wellbeing and mental health of employees. Please get in contact with a member of our team for more lone worker training information via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0207 469 0200.