Because of the isolated nature of their roles lone workers are substantially more at risk from accidents and emergencies than non-lone workers. To ensure they are protected from potential risks, it’s important that employers have strategies in place so that workers know exactly what to do if an incident occurs. With this in mind Simon Birchall, managing director of a leading workforce management solutions developer, timeware® (UK), gives his advice on what preventive and responsive measures should be put in place to help protect lone workers.
To minimise the risks to lone worker welfare, businesses should adopt a robust safety strategy that covers both prevention and response.
Whereby prevention deals with identifying a problem before it arises and taking the cautionary measures to reduce the likelihood of its occurrence, response is the necessary steps to take if and when an incident arises.
Prevention should firstly begin with a thorough risk assessment that outlines any high risk activities that the lone worker might be subject to as part of their job.
There are three main risks that affect lone workers:
- Occupational risks: such as trips or falls
- Violence and aggression: from both people they encounter inside and outside of their organisation
- Personal wellbeing risks: such as pre-existing health risks
Different roles come with different risks; whereas one of the biggest risks threats to public sector staff is abuse from members of the public, a major concern of construction workers is accidents on site.
Risk assessments are important in helping to identify whether supervision is needed or whether any backup procedures should be in place. If a risk assessment suggests that the working environment is not safe for lone workers then under no circumstances should employers allow lone work to continue.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the lone worker is adequately protected. It is therefore extremely important to make sure that the results from the risk assessment are used to sufficiently protect the lone worker.
Once a risk assessment has been completed and any areas of concern have been identified, the lone worker must be given adequate training so they are able to cope with any potential emergencies or challenging situations.
Preventive employer training should cover:
- Why a lone worker is at a greater risk than a normal worker
- The correct safety procedures
- How to carry out risk assessments whilst on the job
- How to use lone worker technology to prevent issues arising
Adopting lone worker technology is also an effective measure in reducing the risks of emergencies. Whereas many businesses may not have the staff resources available to supervise lone workers at all times, technology has the capabilities to monitor workers round the clock. At present there is an abundance of lone worker protective technology available that ranges from mobile apps to key fob safety alarms and GPS tracking equipment to help people feel more secure when working alone.
As an example of this type of technology available, timeware® (UK), provides an effective method of tracking lone worker by utilising GPS tracking technology. The technology is the size of a matchbox and can be carried on the worker themselves or fitted onto a vehicle. The device is able to report the exact global location position to a cloud-based server every five minutes providing a very accurate map of the exact route a worker takes on any given day. This technology works well as a preventive measure as managers can keep very close tabs on workers without having to even contact the person.
Even with the most sophisticated preventive measures in place, emergencies can still occur and so businesses must also have a detailed response strategy in place.
As part of the response strategy, managers should take the time to explain all emergency procedures to lone workers and any danger areas should be highlighted. Lone workers should also have access to first-aid facilities and it’s advised that they carry a portable first-aid kit on them at all times. Depending on the situation, a risk assessment might also identify that the worker needs first-aid training.
All lone workers should be given intensive training to ensure that in the event of an emergency they are able to respond correctly and keep a cool head.
Emergency training should cover details such as:
- Emergency action plan – including evacuation plans, alarm systems, reporting procedures
- Types of potential emergencies
- Potential hazards such as flammable materials
Another key part of the emergency response strategy is communication. Management should have a strict emergency communication procedure in place and lone workers should have an updated list of key personnel and off-duty telephone numbers available to them.
GPS tracking technology, such as the Bubbletracker device that timeware® (UK) provide, can also be very effective for emergency response. The technology allows managers to view multiple staff positons at once. This helps to dramatically reduce the time it takes to respond to an incident as managers are able to send in backup based on the precise locations of other members of staff.
With the correct preventive and response measures in place businesses can reduce and control the risks posed to lone workers. A detailed risk assessment coupled with in-depth training and the application of reliable lone worker technology can help to keep lone workers safe from harm and able to complete their jobs confidently and efficiently.