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Lone worker safety: What you need to know

16 November 2017

It is estimated that 8million people in the UK are lone workers. According to the HSE, this number is on the rise each year, yet it’s an area of employee training that can often be overlooked. With working conditions for individuals changing so quickly, Julian Roberts, CEO for EssentialSkillz, a leading eLearning and compliance specialist, says it’s important that training and risk assessments keep pace.

Lone workers are defined as those who work by themselves or without close or direct supervision. These include those who:

  • Work from a fixed base, such as one person working alone in a shop, petrol stations etc
  • Work alone for extended periods (ie: in factories, leisure centres etc)
  • Work outside normal hours (ie: cleaners, security staff, maintenance staff etc)
  • Work away from a fixed base (ie: construction workers, agricultural workers, health care workers, environment inspectors etc)
  • Work at home
  • Mobile workers (ie: delivery drivers, postal staff etc)

Though many lone workers may be clearly identifiable, instances can easily be missed, and training neglected. For example, keyholders, who may be the first to arrive or the last to leave the site, can be working alone for an unknown period.

Technology & lone working

Technology has a large part to play in this rise of lone workers in the country. Increased automation in factories has allowed lone workers to oversee and manage the machine’s tasks. Increased mobility and the development of communication technology has widened the definition of a working environment. People can now perform the same tasks almost anywhere while maintaining virtual communication with colleagues.

Technology also enables lone workers to stay safe. Apps, satellite devices with SOS alerts and follow-me tracking capabilities, GPS, man-down capabilities, alert-a-buddy alarms and wearable technology are just some of the ways that companies can equip lone workers to keep them safe. These are now ubiquitous and can be surprisingly cost effective. Employers can be safe in the knowledge that they have provided staff with ways to communicate, alert or track their movements when working alone.

Employer responsibility

Employers have a responsibility to provide a healthy and safe working environment. The law requires employers to define and identify lone workers and the risks they face. Steps need to be taken to control risks where necessary.

Some simple steps employers can take to mitigate risks include:

  • Assessing the environment
  • Reviewing any required training
  • Putting measures in place for supervision
  • Managers being aware of where lone workers are and how long they are expected to be somewhere
  • Regular communication protocols with lone workers allow managers to quickly identify a failure to check in and have a plan to act

Employee responsibility

Employees have a responsibility for their own safety and should avoid potentially dangerous situations. Employees are expected to follow set procedures that they have been trained on and are trusted to assess a situation with their safety at the forefront of their decision making.

Employees first need to record all instances where lone working takes place and, together with the employer, create agreed procedures for each. Training staff on the procedures and ensuring their understanding is vital to ensure full compliance. Training will help to give them confidence in coping in unforeseen circumstances that could put themselves at risk, while assuring employers that workers are competent and experienced enough to deal with challenges they may face.

Part of training should include the limits set by employers on what can and can’t be done while working alone. It should be made clear how lone workers can seek help if needed and feel safe and secure in all aspects of their job.

Risk assessments and training

Risk assessments help employers determine the correct level of supervision or monitoring needed. Employers with five or more employees must carry out risk assessments and must record any significant findings.

Interactive eLearning is an efficient and cost effective way of educating your workforce, 24/7 and in any location. Policies and procedures can also be distributed through an eLearning system, and by including tests employers can be confident their employees understand how to work safely alone.

If adequate time is spent understanding the responsibilities of the organisation as well as individual employees, and proactive planning is followed through, these are the building blocks to providing a comfortable, safe and secure working environment.