The perils of lone working engineers
26 August 2015
By Grace Kelly - safety, health, environment and quality manager at Sierra Support Services Group.
It is well-recognised within some sectors physical risks come with the territory – be it working on live electrical lines to gas installation systems. But, what is sometimes less-well known are the risks surrounding lone working in people’s homes.
According to the HSE, a lone worker is defined as someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision.
With the advent of numerous in-home offerings to UK households and the development of technological advances in areas, which include smart metering, engineers visiting UK households have notably increased over the last decade. This rise brings with it, a potential for workers in the home to face significant challenges as regards safety and risk.
Reports of aggression from home owners have been cited by the HSE for lone working electrical engineers during home visits.
The financial implications are huge if lone workers are not trained up properly with the HSE predicting a cost of between £17,000 and £19,000 to investigate a physical assault arising from social threats associated with lone working.
Lone workers face two potential challenges: firstly, the complexity of the job is increasing with any challenges they face being initially dealt with by the individual.
Secondly, the potential to face conflict and aggression – be it verbal or physical – calls for high levels of interpersonal and specialist skills. There is an increasing level of expectation that engineers, who were recruited for technical skills, now require interpersonal skills in equal measure.
Legally, employers have implemented policies to reduce risks to lone workers. Obligations from The Health and Safety Act (1999) require employers to conduct a suitable and efficient assessment of the risks employees are likely to face whilst at work and efficiently address them.
More recently, the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act (2007) (CMA) denotes that company directors can now be held responsible for serious failings in their processes and procedures with the potential for personal and criminal prosecution if a death in the workplace results.
What's the solution?
Sierra Support Services has developed innovative, hands-on training schemes which are designed to equip workers with excellent practical and technical skills.
These schemes recognise that purely focusing on technical training is obsolete. There is a requirement for team members to be equally equipped with interpersonal skills which not only assist in risk mitigation but also help in the provision of an excellent customer experience.
Sierra’s workers must be able to communicate successfully with clients and be sensitive to the needs of the more vulnerable. This, in turn, increases the trust a customer has in the engineer and reduces any unnecessary negative feelings they may have during a home visit.
As well as developing soft skills, we have devised a strategic plan to ensure risks are successfully accounted for, overcome and tracked. There are four key areas for ensuring lone worker and client welfare:
- Training: ensuring all team members are adequately trained on practical/technical skills as well as developing soft skills for enhanced interaction with clients. This includes how to deal with vulnerable customers in the home, ensuring all engineers understand the requirements and steps to take when dealing with this group.
- Risk-assessment and planning: prior to a home visit, a customer service representative will determine any risks which may be prevalent in a client’s home eg aggressive dogs, difficult access, etc. It will also be identified at this stage, whether vulnerable individuals are present in the home so the appropriate measures can be taken to ensure their safety throughout the visit.
- Upon arrival, the Sierra team member will then complete an on-site risk assessment, identifying and evaluating risks which may be specific to the home they are entering. Our team member will then devise the best strategy for mitigating risks and implement the approaches effectively.
- Communications: communicative skills are one of the most important aspects of soft skills. The team is trained in interpersonal skills so that they communicate well – both listening and explaining - in a variety of situations during client home visits. This also optimises client satisfaction.
- Technology: in order to ensure the safety of our team during client home visits, each is tracked by IT systems which updates and flags up any issues in real time.
We’ve seen a healthy return on our investment in training our field teams in conflict resolution, organisation and communication skills, principles of customer service and suitable mannerisms and behaviour. These initiatives have been applauded by IoSH, NISO and RoSPA.