Lone Workers and the Risks of the Hidden Workforce
- Date: Wednesday 20th June 2018
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Lone workers are often alone physically, and psychologically, but technology and training can help ensure their safety and welfare.
There are more than six million lone workers in the UK, representing approximately 20% of the UK workforce. Lone workers can be found in most, if not all, organisations, performing a varied set of functions. The NHS, for instance, employs up to 100,000 healthcare professionals who work on their own every single day.
The significant challenges for lone workers are commonly underestimated and misunderstood by management. Systems, processes and procedures are often designed around on-site staff such as office workers.
Office based on-boarding processes and procedures are generally well understood; desk, chair, space, landline, laptop can easily be allocated and deployed without issue, but lone workers have differing requirements.
Maintaining a coherent company culture, often cultivated informally within an office environment (the so-called “water cooler” chats), is weakened through remote and lone workers, who experience less interaction and therefore potentially have fewer positive peer-to-peer relationships, and can therefore struggle. More proactive and organised interactions and events are required to ensure company values and culture are shared and embodied equally among staff.
The law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone, as set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
There is no magic process given that lone workers work in a variety of settings and environments, from working in a petrol station, working at home or in a care setting visiting a patient. Each scenario is different and requires a detailed analysis of the risks along with a mitigation plan.
Not in isolation
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, as many as 150 lone workers are either physically or verbally attacked every day. More than 6% of lone workers in the NHS have also been physically attacked. These figures should provide a stark reminder to those responsible for risk assessment and mitigation that risks to lone workers are not items on a tick-sheet but a reality that needs to be addressed.
Risk assessment and mitigation must include the working environment, the tasks that lone workers are expected to carry out, the associated risks with lone-working activities, as well as a list of potential scenarios and how they could be addressed. Measures should include procedures, training, tools, technology and equipment that prevent, mitigate or provide for the ability to escape harm and/or rapid response.
The very nature of lone working means that neither colleagues or management are by their side to help assist and support the lone worker in case of an adverse event.
To support lone workers, organisations could consider offering:
- Conflict management training: to develop abilities to de-escalate a situation before it becomes physical and/or violent.
- Real-time / dynamic risk assessment and awareness training: many situations cannot be foreseen or turned into a process/procedure, so the ability for the lone worker to make this assessment and take appropriate action is critical.
- The provision of PPE and medical supplies: where appropriate and specific to their task these can be essential.
- Technology, mobile tracking and alerting: solutions exist that enable lone workers to be – by consent – tracked during their working time so that management can exercise their duty of care. Some systems feature a panic button on a mobile device that can alert staff when they have not received a GPS position update after a certain amount of time or haven’t changed position after a set amount of time.
- Culture and relationships: corporate away days, office parties and industry events provide an ideal opportunity to reinforce company culture and values within and between teams and communicate the value each bring to the organisation. The value of doing this should not be underestimated or disregarded as a “warm and fuzzy” initiative but key to ensuring that part of your workforce isn’t unseen and undervalued.
It is imperative that lone workers do not become a “hidden” workforce. Their voices, views and requirements must be heard in equal proportion to workers with a physical office presence. By ensuring they are fully integrated and considered will you be able to support their needs and safety, and also maintain productivity across the whole organisation.