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The Lone Worker Landscape Report 2021: Addressing the Engagement Gap

Protecting lone workers has never been black and white.

With HSE lone working guidelines often open to interpretation, companies may often approach their duty of care in distinctly different ways.

We spoke to over 800 lone workers and HSE executives at nearly 500 organisations to find out what they really think about the lone worker safety and protections – and uncover where they agree and starkly disagree.

The Lone Worker Landscape Report examines, for the first time, the current lone worker safety landscape and the disparities between the perspectives of employers and the lone workers themselves with the hope that, through greater understanding, the levels of protection given to lone workers can be improved.

A third of employees believe their company puts financial targets above safety

One of the biggest disparities that the research revealed was how seriously the company takes lone worker safety. There is a discrepancy between the perception at management and board level – who perceive lone worker safety to be a priority – and the lone workers themselves, who feel that their safety is not as important to the company.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly all companies (94%) give themselves a 10 out of 10 rating for how seriously they take the safety of lone workers, whereas just 45% of lone workers feel the same. Additionally, a third of employees (33%) feel other factors like deadlines and financial targets are considered to be more important than their safety.

Managers are over-estimating the effectiveness of lone worker safety communications and training

Those working at an executive level in health and safety have a good understanding of the regulations surrounding lone working, with over 90% stating that they have a good or very good understanding of their legal responsibilities.

However, despite the majority of companies (53%) holding safety training or briefing sessions for their staff, 61% of lone workers do not feel they have a good understanding of lone working safety regulations, suggesting that the messages employers are issuing around regulations are not getting through.

Similarly, employees also have a poor understanding of who is to blame if there is an incident involving a lone worker; just 51% of employees know that it is the company that has ultimate responsibility for their safety. Our research consistently indicates that there is a tendency for companies to overestimate the effectiveness of their communication and training efforts, as well as their employees’ understanding of health and safety matters.

Lone worker incidents are being significantly under-reported

Our research suggests that the number of incidents involving lone workers is likely to be far higher than reported.

Only around a third (36%) of lone workers have expressed their safety concerns to their employer. However, HSE executives seem unaware, with nearly all (92%) believing that their lone workers are speaking to them regularly about any incidents and concerns. This underreporting is a major concern, which can lead to complacency by employers and an under-estimate of the real level of risk faced by staff on a daily basis.

Currently, many organisations are putting extra safety measures in place after an incident. The high prevalence of lone worker incidents across all industries in the past three years – which are also likely to be significantly under-reported – clearly highlights the need for robust safety measures to be in place in all organisations before an incident occurs. This is especially important as many lone workers are also likely to be under-estimating the risks they face.

How to address the engagement gap

It’s understandable that Health and Safety Executives think that they are getting it right when it comes to lone worker safety; the majority of companies are implementing a range of procedures, policies and safety measures designed to keep staff safe.

However, there are significant disparities between the views of those at a management level versus those of the lone workers themselves, with a real need for improved communication, particularly around risks, incident reporting and procedures.

In light of the findings in this report, it is clear that organisations should undertake a review of their current lone worker safety measures, communications and training to assess their effectiveness from both an organisational and lone worker point of view, as research shows this may differ considerably.

Lone Worker Landscape Report 2021