Changing risks for lone workers
09 March 2018
The past decade has seen some real changes in lone working practices across the UK, in the number of lone workers, the variety of jobs they undertake and in the training and technology available to protect them. As the Lone Worker Theatre launches at this year's Health & Safety Event, Nicole Vazquez, the organiser of its education programme, explores some of the trends and developments in this field
For some sectors it is the streamlining of processes that mean only one person is now necessary for many tasks, in other sectors it is economic pressure that has led to an increase in lone working. Many businesses find themselves in the position of having more lone workers than ever before and why not? There are obvious advantages of using only one member of staff to carry out tasks or activities.
Staff members themselves on many occasions report their preference for working alone. The autonomy and freedom that it can allow for some is welcome. However, there are also many lone workers who find themselves experiencing negative impacts. From accidents to incidents of violence and aggression through to the effects of stress and isolation, all of these need to be considered, and businesses need to be aware of the adverse impact these risks can have on both the lone worker and their business.
Will Murray, marketing director for Skyguard, says: “There have been some highly publicised violent attacks by members of the public, as well as tragic but preventable accidents across many sectors. This has put pressure on senior managers and boards to do more to protect staff. This, alongside an increase in horrific terrorist attacks, has made organisations re-evaluate their safety and security arrangements.”
Craig Swallow, managing director for SoloProtect, adds: “Certainly larger employers are now genuinely understanding the cost and impact of an incident, not just to the worker involved, but to the business. A combination of increased penalties, reputation or brand damage and the need to improve employer & employee relations has all meant that there is a greater focus on proactive measures."
Awareness of lone worker safety and the measure of what would be classed as ‘best practice’ has improved over the past few years. More safety professionals getting to grips with how to effectively assess lone working risks and organisations are focusing their resources on more targeted training and more sophisticated technology based solutions to help keep staff safe.
Businesses are realising that you cannot ‘sheepdip’ staff with lone worker training that is not reflective of their needs and concerns. The old style ‘general awareness raising’ training has little place in today's market. But training that focuses on providing practical skills and workable strategies to help staff take charge of their own safety and wellbeing can be of great benefit both in reducing risks and increasing staff confidence levels. Organisations are getting better at integrating training solutions into their risk management systems, which has led to a demand for more measurable results.
When it comes to technology the lone worker market has seen many recent innovations. Lone worker devices have become smaller, lighter, more discreet and yet capable of providing greater functionality.
Will Murray adds: “With an improvement in back end technology we can offer more personalisation to each staff members’ individual circumstances. There have been huge leaps in server side technology which means that we can allow clients to take greater control over their own systems, leading to greater flexibility and convenience for both worker and employer."
It seems that the concern about lone worker systems being used purely for tracking staff is much less of an issue today and employers are seeing the benefits of two way communication with workers.
Craig Swallow says: “An increasing number of employers are asking for proactive ways of communicating out to their mobile workforce about risks they may face, both widescale risks (e.g. terrorist threats) or very localised issues (e.g. you are entering a property now where asbestos may be present).”
One area that has come to the forefront of attention for lone workers (as with other workers) over the past year is mental health and wellbeing. Although still not addressed to a great degree by most sectors at present, it will be interesting to see how the management of mental health and wellbeing, especially in remote workers changes in years to come.