Over the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of talk about lone working. This is as a result of the increased conversation surrounding mental health in the workplace (amongst other things).
A ‘lone worker’ is an employee that performs work activities in isolation and without close or direct supervision. This includes:
- Self-employed people.
- And employees.
It shouldn’t be surprising to then learn that these types of workers are also exposed to their own forms of risks as a result of working alone.
In this post, well explore lone working and the impact it has on mental health. We’ll also suggest some tips that employers can use to ensure the mental wellbeing of these workers.
Who are lone workers?
A lone worker is anyone working:
- In a building that’s only occupied by one person. Eg petrol station, home-workers, kiosks etc.
- Separately from other members of a team.
- Outside of the standard working hours. Eg. Cleaners, security, hotel staff etc.
- Away from their fixed location. Whether it be a contraction site or a plant installation or maintaining lifts, vehicle recovery etc.
- In the service industry. Eg, postal staff, pest control workers, salespeople visiting their customer’s properties etc.
Impact on mental health
There’re countless studies that show that lone workers are at a higher risk of feeling isolated from everything.
Research by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation found that up to 64% of employees that class as lone workers face certain levels of physiological distress. While a study by CV-library found that over 42% of the employees surveyed believe that the isolation and loneliness associated with lone working can compromise their mental health.
The feeling of loneliness arises as a result of extended periods of isolation and can be triggered by a variety of factors. For example, it could be down to:
- Lack of support and encouragement.
- Lack of comradery.
- Reduced contact with co-workers.
- Limited inclusion in team activities and outings.
While impacts may vary depending on your specific circumstances, a common issue experienced by most lone workers is an increase in stress levels which can go on to cause depression and Anxiety.
Your responsibilities for lone workers
Your duty of care begins at the risk assessment stage. You’re to assess the risks to lone workers and take steps to prevent or control them wherever they may arise.
Other responsibilities include;
- Consulting with workers when considering potential risks.
- Putting control measures in place.
- Taking steps to remove risks where possible.
- Regular review of risk assessments either periodically or after a change to work practices or location.
It’s worth noting, you’re legally obligated to consult with your employees. This process allows them to effectively communicate their concerns on issues relating to their physical or mental health.
Protecting your lone workers
There are a variety of things you can do to protect the mental wellbeing of your workers. The first is a risk assessment to identify elements contributing to ill mental health.
Other ways to support lone workers include:
Maintain contact: It’s important to have regular conversations (by phone, skype, slack or MSN if needs be). This allows the employee to feel like part of the team. Consider having these conversations at the end of the day, this way it’s more of a rundown of their day than it is micromanaging.
Office time: You should schedule in some time so that employees are spending some time in the office. As well as connecting with colleagues, it opens them up to a new range of ideas. By brainstorming with team members.
Lone working policy: Although not a legal requirement, the policy gives your lone workers an idea of what you expect of them. It also helps to promote a culture of safety for employees and reduce legal risks for your company.
The document should include information relating to risks, the organisation’s commitment and responsibilities and the process for reporting incidents including the appropriate person’s name and contact information.