Safety is black and white - so why is lone working such a grey area?
01 March 2017
All employers have a Duty of Care to keep their staff properly trained and comfortable at work. But when it comes to lone working there’s still many grey areas, says LoneALERT sales & marketing manager, Mathew Colley.
“I’m not a lone worker,” declared a friend - a teacher - during a chat about work.
She had previously been reliving tales about dealing with disruptive - and sometimes verbally aggressive - pupils and the procedures in place at school to deal with the issue. She spoke disapprovingly of the current email system which meant she had to restrain or distract said disruptive pupil and keep an eye on the rest of the class whilst emailing for assistance. It was not uncommon, she said, for the lesson to be over by the time help arrived.
That’s on top of the home visits she has to make, often to discuss sensitive issues with families. When quizzed on the policies in place to keep her safe whilst out visiting strangers, she had to concede that logs of addresses in her personal diary wouldn’t be much help if she found herself in trouble and needed help.
But my friend, like many others I have spoken to, doesn’t even realise that she is a lone worker.
If the worst happened and the classroom situation turned aggressive how would anyone know to send help? If her home visit became violent, would anyone know exactly where she was?
I have had dozens of conversations with lone workers who don’t even know they are lone workers and this chat was another that highlighted the many grey areas associated with lone working as a whole.
Many of the people I have spoken to are sure they don’t feel 100% safe and protected, but not sure what entitlements they have. An office worker regularly working night shifts who doesn’t think he’s a lone worker because there’s hundreds on the payroll, for example. A cleaner whose duties include mopping steep steps down into the basement whilst her colleagues are on higher floors. The nurse feeling vulnerable in a busy, but volatile, A&E department at night. The shop assistant at a bustling high street retailer working late shifts.
All of them are lone workers, all of them working in different circumstances, with different risks and different needs.
The wider picture of workplace health and safety is one that is ever-evolving and developing to ensure workers have the best possible training, protection and working environments.
There are now strict laws are in place to make sure workforces are as safe and comfortable as possible for staff. All employers are required to provide their workers with adequate lighting and heating, clean toilets and washing facilities, for example. Those working on computer screens are offered regular eye tests, office desks and chairs have to be adjustable to reduce the risks of repetitive strain injuries and suitable personal protective equipment is offered for free wherever there are possible risks.
Furthermore, all workers are entitled to minimum rest breaks and paid holiday, maximum weekly working hours and intensive training when handling machinery. The list goes on.
All of these regulations are, quite rightly, in place to keep workers as safe as possible when they go about their jobs. But there’s still no actual law in place specifically addressing lone working in the UK, despite the issue continuing its steady creep into public consciousness due to a number of high profile cases.
When it comes down to it, the issue of lone working is not about job roles or functions. It’s not about experience or length of staff service. It’s not about hierarchy, titles or industries. And it’s not about pay scale either. Lone working is about people. And every worker has the right to feel safe as they do their job - whatever job that may be.
It is important to realise that the needs of every lone worker - and indeed every company employing lone workers - is different. There are many grey areas when it comes to lone working policy, but keeping staff safe at work is surely black and white. Whilst the law has stood still, the developments in solutions to protect lone workers from every walk of life have been huge. Solutions are now available for every worker, whatever their job role and whatever their industry. It’s now time we all start talking about lone working so the law can catch up.