For the past few years, statistics show that the number of individuals classed as lone workers has been steadily growing. Information derived from Health and Safety at work shows that in 2018 there were as many as 6 million lone workers in the UK, representing 20% of the total population.
Many organisations are making the swap from traditional office-based roles to home and remote working, as it often allows for more flexibility and diversity. Industries such as healthcare, housing, construction, charities and engineering employ a large number of lone workers as it allows them to expand their customer base and increase organisational productivity.
Developments in technology also mean that jobs which once required two or more individuals can now be carried out effectively by a single employee. Equipment that once required two people to carry or operate is now accessible to a single employee, while files and work tools can be accessed from a smart device.
Hazards of lone working
Despite the obvious benefits of lone working, employees who work alone are often more at risk from external dangers and unsafe working conditions. Lone workers come up against the same hazards and risks as other employees yet working alone leaves an individual vulnerable as help is not as easily accessible in a difficult or emergency situation. Employees working alone may be left in a situation where they are unable to alert someone for help in the case of an accident, confrontation or sudden illness.
Lone workers are also more at risk from theft, violence and assault from the public as they may be viewed as an easier target. Unlike those who work in an office environment, lone workers do not have the support and instant access to help from nearby colleagues when these situations arise.
How many lone workers attacked daily?
Statistics derived from the British Crime Survey indicate that as many as 150 lone workers are attacked every single day. This includes employees working in industries such as healthcare, retail, transportation and civil service.
What are the laws on lone working?
While there are few pieces of legislation that focus specifically on lone working rules, the duty of care remains the same as with other employees. By law, companies have a responsibility to assess and adequately deal with any risks identified.
The risk of violence and aggression is likely to be higher for those working in certain industries and job roles. For example, support staff who work individually with offenders, addicts, or people with certain mental health conditions are more likely to encounter violence, aggression and assault from their patients or patient’s family members. Employees who work in hostile situations such as bailiffs, security, and housing association staff encounter threatening situations regularly due to the often volatile setting, and lone working retail staff are likely targets for armed robberies and anti-social behaviour.
Organisations are legally required to assess the level of risk to their employees and put measures in place to reduce or eliminate the risk so that employees are not seriously harmed while at work.
What is a lone working risk assessment?
A lone working risk assessment is a process of identifying and assessing risks associated with a job role carried out by a lone worker. The purpose of the assessment is to identify what needs to be done to control health and safety risks for your lone workers.
A lone worker risk assessment should identify all employees who could be considered lone workers whether for all or part of their working day and identify the different risk each of these lone workers face. An organisation may have several types of lone workers such as those carrying out site visits and those working late in the office alone. Therefore the associated risks could be very different and separate policies and procedures may need to be put in place following the risks assessment.
Safeguarding your lone workers
Fortunately, a number of solutions have been developed in response to the growing number of employees working alone. The fastest growing of which is the lone worker app. Recent statistics show that apps currently account for up to 40% of the lone worker solutions market and expected to rise considerably.
What can you do about unsafe working conditions?
For lone workers, the greatest challenge is alerting somebody in the event of an accident or incident. Many organisations utilising lone workers rely on manual methods of checking-in such as regular phone calls or text messages. However, this relies on several parties remembering to check-in or follow up with a colleague they have not heard from. If a check-in is missed and the employee cannot be contacted, locating them creates another challenge as schedules often change.
Fortunately, Developments in mobile technology mean that apps are able to provide reliable and intuitive solutions to common lone worker challenges. In the event of an emergency, panic features can be activated, and alerts sent to the necessary contacts, with the added GPS technology, assistance can be sent to the individual’s exact location.
The organisation can set periods in which employees are expected to check-in at the push of a button so that colleagues are automatically updated when they need to be.
Apps are also more convenient as they are easily accessible from workers’ smartphone and they can be developed remotely as new features become available. As the majority of people use smartphones, an app provides a user-friendly and familiar format with minimal disruption to the working day.
As legislation around the world becomes more stringent and begins to incorporate lone working guidance, apps are becoming widely considered as the best way to protect off-site and remote workers.
Do you have the right to refuse unsafe work?
Section 44 of the Employment Right Act 1996 states that workers have the right ’ to withdraw from and to refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe without any disciplinary action being taken. Employees are entitled to remain away from the workplace (e.g. stay at home) if – in their opinion – the prevailing circumstances represent a real risk of serious and imminent danger which they could not be expected to avert.
What is considered an unsafe work environment?
According to OSHA, an unsafe work environment can be categorized as an environment whereby an employee is unable to perform their required daily duties due to the physical conditions of the workplace being too dangerous. For instance, exposed wiring, broken equipment, hazardous materials, or asbestos could pose an unsafe working environment for employees.
For lone workers, an unsafe work environment could be one in which the organisation has no form of monitoring, communicating with or providing emergency response to employees. There are also some environments where lone working should not be permitted due to high risk such as visiting a client known to be violent alone or working with large amounts of money where robberies are a high possibility.
Can you sue your employer for an unsafe work environment?
Generally, employees are unable to sue their employers for an unsafe work environment as in most cases, workplace injuries are covered under worker’s compensation. With workers’ compensation insurance, you don’t have to prove your employer did anything wrong to collect benefits. The trade-off is that your employer is protected from most lawsuits.
However, there are some cases where an employee would be able to sue their employer such as; intential accidents caused by the employer, unknown exposure to toxic substances and third-party negligence. Employees may also be able to sue if they are injured at work and the employer does not have an adequate worker’s compensation plan.
What is lone working HSE? – UK regulations
Lone working HSE is an organisation that focuses on providing information to individuals about their rights as employees. They cover a range of different topics involving migrant workers, workers with disabilities, lone workers and more. You can find out more about HSE and their regulations here
StaySafe lone working solutions
StaySafe provides employers with a low cost, easy to use solution to managing the safety of their lone workers. Comprised of an app and online hub, StaySafe provides employers with real-time updates on employee’s safety status and location while they work.
StaySafe also allows regular communication between employee and employer through a session check-in feature, which can be customised according to the organisation’s needs.
The app includes a man down feature which can alert monitoring services if an employee has not moved or checked-in for a prolonged period of time. If an employee feels threatened or under attack, they can also raise an alarm discreetly by using the phone’s power button.
Additionally, inputting a unique duress pin will safeguard the employee if threatened by an attacker. The unique feature can be used to appear as if the app has been disabled when in actual fact a high priority alert is raised.
When an alert is raised by a lone worker, chosen monitors, either within the organisation or via a professional monitoring station will be alerted allowing them to verify the alert and dispatch the appropriate assistance to the employee.
For more information on our lone worker protection services, visit our website.