It is estimated that up to 8 million people in the United Kingdom are lone workers. That’s 22% of the 31.2m UK working population.
Lone working is defined by the Health and Safety Executive as those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. This doesn’t mean that the worker is physically alone, it means they are in a separate location to the rest of their team or manager. Some workers may be alone such as fixed location workers, however, many work with the general public.
Statistics from the British Crime Survey have indicated that as many as 150 lone workers are attacked every day. The victims of attacks are varied and take place across a number of industries and job roles where people can be found working alone. This statistic includes both physical and verbal attacks.
This number may seem high, but with as many as 46% of the UK workforce in full-time employment counting themselves as lone workers, the number of workers at risk every day is clear and the importance of knowing how to be safe when working alone is underlined.
Yes. But as an employer, you still have a legal obligation to carefully consider health and safety risks.
Just because an employee isn’t in sight doesn’t mean their safety isn’t a priority. It is even more so. This also extends to contractors and self-employed people doing work for your business.
There are a number of things you should do to help better protect your lone workers and comply with both moral and legal obligations;
- Conduct a lone working risk assessment
- Implement a lone working policy
- Lone worker training
- Use of personal safety alarms and monitoring software
This is a practical guide that your employees can apply to their roles.
An effective lone worker policy can help to promote a strong safety culture among employees and reduce the risk of legal issues.
The key to a strong policy is to consider the potential risks that lone working employees face and offer best-practice guidance.
Your lone working policy should include risks (by job role or lone worker type), key definitions, background information and purpose statement, your organisational commitment, clearly-defined responsibilities, guidance on reporting incidents, plus any relevant support and contact details.
We’ve created a step-by-step document to help you to create/update your own lone working policy. Just remember that this isn’t a simple “cut and paste” exercise. Your policy should be unique to your organisation.
Here are some of the most common types of lone workers and the industries they work in;
Housing. This includes estate agents, sales personnel in show homes and people who work for housing associations such as neighbourhood officers.
Social & Health. Community nurses, GP’s, social workers and probation officers. Lone workers in these groups will likely visit people in their homes.
Homeworkers. Many different types of people work from their homes such as writers, sales people or the self-employed.
Transport & Logistics. The most obvious type of lone worker is drivers, but warehouse and unloading staff often work alone.
Construction. Site workers, managers, surveyors and inspectors.
Out of hours work. People who work outside the usual working hours such as security people or cleaners.
Utilities. Our water, gas and electricity companies employee lone workers such as meter readers and maintenance staff.
Providing personal safety devices is one of the most effective ways of protecting lone workers and is the first choice for many employers.
There are many different types of safety products available to suit different types of workers – including mobile phone apps, discreet devices disguised as ID tags, hand-held satellite systems and other wearable technology.
Most of these solutions use an amber/red alert system, which allows users to raise the alarm should something happen. All information is transmitted to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), which is manned by trained operators 24/7. Here’s a brief animation explaining the Peoplesafe service…
Many lone worker safety devices provide Amber Alert, Red Alert and Man Down functionality. Here’s a brief overview of each feature…
The device is used to generate an Amber Alert to log that the employee is entering a lone working situation that may be risky. For example, a salesperson entering someone’s house, or an engineer about to carry out work in a remote location.
The employee enters details of their location, with a postcode if known, and a time when the possible threat is expected to cease. If they don’t cancel the Amber Alert when they have returned to ‘normal’ working practice, a red alert will automatically be raised.
These are the alerts generated in an emergency situation or even if a lone worker just feels uncomfortable. They press the button to raise a Red Alert and an operator at the ARC will assess the situation. They can hear what is going on via an audio connection, so if it is not safe to speak or communicate, the operator can still understand what’s going on.
They may try to contact the employee through the device or mobile phone and will decide whether to escalate to the emergency services. They will continue to monitor the situation until the employee confirms they are OK and the situation is resolved.
Man Down Alerts
Slips, trips and falls are one of the most common forms of accidents occurring in the workplace. Sometimes these can be serious. If an employee is knocked unconscious in the process, they’ll be unable to call for help and could be left for hours, unchecked and in a critical condition.
This is where a ‘mandown’ alarm comes into force. Should an employee slip, trip or fall – a mandown capability within the device will automatically raise an alert. Some devices raise the alarm if it’s not moved in a set period of time and all will work if its subject to a sudden impact. A mandown Alert is then sent to the ARC.
The following three real-life examples demonstrate exactly what happens when an alert is raised…
1. Julie, Housing Officer
At 10.33pm on 27th July 2016, an Amber Alert was activated by a staff member (Julie), communicating she would be on duty alone overnight at a residential address.
Ten minutes later, a Red Alert was activated and the ARC could hear audio that depicted volatile conversations amongst residents, with a male voice threatening Julie.
When it was safe to do so, the operator asked Julie if the police were required. Julie responded that they were not, but she wanted them to contact her on-call manager. Whilst contacting her manager, the ARC operator continued to monitor the situation via audio. With threats continuing – including one to burn the house down – the operator made the decision to contact the police and Julie managed to lock herself into the office. The operator continued to reassure Julie until the police arrived.
2. Andrew, Care Worker
On 1st August 2016, at just before 4pm, a care worker (Andrew), activated a Red Alert after locking himself in his office following an attack by a resident with a mop handle.
He immediately asked the ARC operator to contact the police, which they did. Whilst informing the police, the operator stayed in contact with Andrew to try to gather more information.
Andrew had not activated an Amber Alert to communicate the address he was working at alone, so the ARC did not have the correct location information. As well as confirming this, they also tried to ascertain whether the attacker was still onsite, and how badly Andrew was hurt, so they could pass all relevant details to the police.
The operator stayed in contact with Andrew until the police arrived.
3. Bill, Delivery Driver
At just before 8pm on 28th July 2016, a lorry driver (Bill), logged an Amber Alert that stated he had arrived in the town he was delivering in. A few minutes later a red alert was received and a male could be heard coughing, but the audio ended after 11 seconds.
The ARC operator managed to get back into contact with Bill via his device, and he told them he was being threatened by a group of teenagers whilst attempting to deliver to the shop. The youths tried to enter the shop and displayed intimidating behaviour.
After checking the address, the operator confirmed with Bill that the police were required, and contacted them accordingly. The operator continued to check in with Bill until the police arrived.
It is your duty as an employer to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of your lone workers.
Lone workers are vulnerable in many ways. As an employer, you are obligated to have measures in place to mitigate risks. This includes:
- Accidents – From slips, trips and falls to work-related injuries and road accidents
- Illness – What happens if you faint, lose consciousness, or suddenly feel very ill, alone?
- Attack – No-one likes to think about it, but when you’re on your own, it’s a risk
One of the most well-known cases around the risks of lone working is that of Suzy Lamplugh, the estate agent who disappeared in 1986 when she went alone to show someone around a house. To this day no-one knows what happened, and a charity, The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, was set up to help people develop skills and strategies for keeping themselves safe. Suzy’s case is extreme, but it does highlight the need to be protected.