It's vital for SMEs to protect both themselves and their staff by implementing a watertight lone working policy as part of their Health and Safety process. Here's how to go about it.
What is lone working?
Lone working refers to if an employee is working on their own, away from colleagues. This applies to a very wide range of situations, from travelling to a meeting on one’s own, to working as a lone security guard in an empty building. It also applies to contractors or those who are self-employed.
No matter the situation, it’s important for employers to consider the health and safety risks associated with lone working, and ensure they have proportionate policies in place to protect staff.
There are two main types of lone working:
1. Fixed location lone working
People working in a fixed location who are on their own are lone workers. This could apply to:
- Someone working on their own in a petrol station
- Someone working alone in a kiosk or shop
- Someone working on their own in an office or at home
- Those working in an empty premises outside of office hours, such as security guards or cleaners.
2. Mobile lone working
Mobile workers can also be at risk, and include:
- Postal staff
- Social workers
- Delivery drivers
- Those who travel to customers’ homes on their own, such as repair or maintenance staff
- Taxi drivers
- Door-to-door sales representatives.
Why do you need a policy?
There are many risks lone workers face, such as threats from customers, sudden illness, accidents, theft and even road accidents. In fact, the British Crime Survey reports that as many as 150 lone workers are attacked in some form every day, while the Health and Safety Executive have released statistics stating that 144 workers suffered a fatal injury at work between 2017-2018.
Ultimately, an employer has responsibility for protecting their lone workers and every business should acknowledge this with a lone working policy.
Along with protecting your staff, it’s also important to have policies in place simply because it’s the law. Businesses can face heavy fines and custodial sentences for mismanaging lone working and not appearing to have proportionate policies in place to safeguard staff.
Section 19 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires employers to carry out risk assessments to establish whether an employee is fit to work on their own. There are also several laws specific to different industries, such as taxi or delivery drivers needing breaks after a certain amount of hours of driving. Each business should ensure they have a policy which addresses all the laws related to their industry.
How do you write one?
When evaluating whether a lone worker is safe, you should first conduct a thorough risk assessment. Some of the questions you may want to consider are:
- Is the worker’s environment presenting a risk?
- Is there a risk of violence?
- Is the employee fit to work alone?
- What training needs to be carried out to ensure the employee is aware of health and safety?
- How will supervisors check in to ensure the lone worker is okay? And how often?
- Is there anything in place for the lone worker to contact help in an emergency?
Once you have completed a risk assessment, it’s crucial to implement specific measures to minimize the potential risks to your lone-working staff. These should be clearly outlined in your company’s lone working policy and regularly updated. It’s also vital to conduct checks to ensure policies are being followed by staff.
Here are some examples of measures you can put in place:
- If an employee is working in a building on their own, they should contact a colleague every few hours to check in and touch base.
- Having code words for violent or threatening situations that will enable customer-facing staff to discretely call for help.
- Supplying first aid kits and training for lone working staff.
- Establishing clear guidelines on locking and securing a place of work for the last person out of an office.
- Having clear incident reporting procedures.
What else can you do to safeguard your staff?
So far we’ve established that it’s vital to:
- Conduct a thorough risk assessment
- Provide your staff with training and resources they need
- Ensure policies are followed and regularly updated.
However, there is one more step you can take if you feel as though your lone-working staff are at risk, and to put your mind at ease: due to the increasing number of lone workers in the UK, several tools and appliances have become available specifically to provide peace of mind and reassurance to both employees and employers.
There are several such tools available, such as personal alarms, discrete safety devices which can alert supervisors, apps to track the location of mobile staff, and even GPS tracking and alarm activation when lone workers are unable to obtain phone signal. It’s worth looking into these if your risk assessment reveals that your workers face higher risks of danger due to lone working.
With the tightening of laws around lone working and health and safety, it’s more vital than ever to ensure your business has a solid lone working policy in place. But with the plethora of advice and tools available to you, and even more tools becoming available as technology advances, it’s never been easier to ensure your employees are protected from the risks associated with lone working.
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