Looking to keep your lone workers safe, protected, and engaged? Then you need to follow this ultimate guide to ensure lone worker safety at your company.
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It’s not easy being a frontline worker, and it’s even more difficult when you’re a lone worker.
What is a Lone Worker?
Well, it’s just as it sounds. It’s somebody who does their job out in the world without any co-workers or supervisors around to help them. They’re very much on their own and often performing manual labour, which is already a challenge.
It’s up to the employer or lone workers to ensure they are safe and protected while on the job. This starts with having a clear understanding of the challenges, needs, and precautions of employees who are spending part or all of their time working alone.
Needless to say, this is just as difficult as it is vital, which is why we wanted to share everything that business owners and managers need to know about lone working.
Defining a Lone Worker
What is a lone worker? Well, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers a simple definition of a lone worker; any employee that works alone without close or direct supervision.
However, things aren’t always that simple in real life.
Perhaps a better definition of what is a lone worker would be any worker who is completely isolated and alone while often engaging in dangerous work or in a hazardous location.
However, it’s becoming important to consider a broader definition of a lone worker, which is why remote employees who work from home now meet the standards.
In other words, any worker who is currently out of sight or sound from any other person should be considered a lone worker. This can include someone who is left alone while others take a break, someone who is working late after everyone else has left, or someone who’s in a different part of the building or worksite that’s removed from anyone else.
All of these situations and more fit the definition of a lone worker.
Common Lone Worker Jobs
While there are lone workers in every industry, it’s worth noting some of the industries where they are more common.
- Anybody who works out in the field performing maintenance or repairs without a partner can be considered a lone worker.
- Estate agents who travel from house to house are lone workers when they’re not physically around their clients.
- People who work as security guards, late-night cleaners, or shop workers who often spend long periods working without anyone in sight also fall into the category of lone workers.
- Even engineers or construction workers will sometimes spend long periods working without anyone within shouting distance.
Finally, as mentioned, someone working remotely from their home can now be considered a lone worker regardless of their employer.
Risks for Lone Workers
Now that we have an idea of what a lone worker is, the next step is looking at some of the risks they face.
Of course, the nature of their work will have an impact on the specific risks lone workers face, but there are some universal risks.
For starters, lone workers risk a lack of proper emergency response because nobody is around them. If someone experiences a work-related injury or a medical emergency like a heart attack, nobody is around to help that lone worker.
That relates directly to another risk, which is a lack of supervision, especially in unsafe environments. Lone workers have nobody to ask for help or advice if they come across a question or a bit of uncertainty in an unpredictable environment. This can increase the chances of an accident or injury occurring.
With more traditional forms of lone workers, it’s possible to slip and fall or be hit by a heavy object with nobody around to call for assistance or offer first aid.
It’s also worth mentioning some of the less tangible and obvious risks of working alone, specifically stress. It can be somewhat unnatural for a person to spend long periods isolated from others, especially if they’re not accustomed to it. Given some of the risks, it can be unnerving and stressful for some people, potentially putting their mental health at risk just as much as their physical well-being.
It’s vital that you implement workplace training to help your lone workers!
Threat of Violence
When discussing lone working, the threat of violence deserves special mention. Lone workers who go out into the world without a partner or another co-worker nearby can sometimes face violence or acts of aggression from the general public. This is frequently seen in occupations like security guards, paramedics, and social workers, but also innocuous professions like postal workers or estate agents can face the threat of violence.
According to HSE, workers in protective service occupations such as police officers face the highest risk of assaults and threats while working, at 11.4% – 8 times the average risk of 1.4%. However, lone workers who work late at night or in isolated areas also face the threat of violence.
Employees who provide customer service or care can also be at a greater risk of violence when working alone.
How Many Lone Workers Are Attacked Every Day
Exact numbers for how many lone workers are attacked every day are hard to come by, especially in the US. A British crime survey from 2018 found that at least 150 lone workers are being verbally or physically assaulted every day in the UK alone—that’s 54,750 lone workers per year.
And while there are no reliable statistics for the number of lone workers being attacked in the US, we know that assaults, categorized as intentional harm inflicted by another person, rank fifth in the leading causes of work-related deaths.
In 2020 alone, assaults caused 20,050 injuries and illnesses involving days away from work and 392 fatalities in the US.
Without co-workers nearby to help them, your lone workers are particularly vulnerable. They are more likely to be considered an easy target or may have a harder time de-escalating the situation.
On top of that, many lone workers are often being sent out without appropriate communications tools.
A survey conducted in the UK on the topic revealed that:
- Nearly 82% of participants relied solely on their cellphones as their main method of communication in the field, acknowledging that this is not the most effective way to ensure their safety.
- 20% of companies stated not having any sort of safety-critical communication methods at all.
As a manager, it is your responsibility to address threats facing your lone workers and make sure they feel safe while on the job.
How to Assess the Risk
The best thing any employer can do for lone workers is to assess the risk those workers face before they begin their job and continue to do so regularly once work has started. It’s important to assess the risk involved for that particular employee while considering what is gained by having them work alone. Is it worth the risk that the employee is assuming, and is there an alternative to that person working alone? These are the types of questions that should be asked following a risk assessment.
Duration of Time
The assessment should start with the amount of time that a person will fit the definition of a lone worker.
- Exactly how long are they being asked to work alone?
- Is it for the full duration of their shift?
- Is it a reasonable length of time for a person to be alone?
- Are they working alone during the day or at night?
This last question is particularly important for someone working outside and interacting with the general public.
The next risk factor to consider is communication.
- How urgent is it for this employee to be able to see or hear another worker?
- Is there a way for this person to easily communicate with someone else in case of an emergency?
- How frequently should this lone worker be asked to check in with a supervisor?
- Perhaps most importantly, what forms of communication are available?
- Does this person have a phone or walkie-talkie that’s always on their person, or is their only method of communication in their vehicle that they sometimes leave?
Location is another important factor for lone workers. Just how isolated will the person be?
For instance, working in a confined space that’s just down the hall from other workers fits the definition of a lone worker but isn’t as isolated as someone travelling to work in a rural area.
- Does the person need a vehicle to get to the worksite?
- At the worksite, what is the closest source of food, water, and medical attention?
Also, if a vehicle is needed, what other risks may appear if the vehicle unexpectedly breaks down?
Nature of Work
Of course, the nature of the work will also play an important role in the risk assessment. Are there specific tools or machinery involved that add to the safety risk? Is there a risk of extreme temperatures? Could the employee suffer from fatigue while working alone? Is the person exchanging money or working with any objects of high value? Even if this person wasn’t working alone, what workplace hazards would exist?
Finally, it’s critical to think about the individual worker who is being asked to work alone. Does this employee have any medical conditions that make it more dangerous for them to work alone? Are they more vulnerable to a medical emergency or have a history of mental health struggles?
Also, does this employee have the skills and training to address some of the potential problems that could pop up? This can include a vehicle breaking down, applying first aid, or repairing an essential piece of equipment.
Look at how you can develop leaders who are working remotely.
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5 Tips to Keeping Your Lone Workers Safe
Maintain an Open Line of Communication
Having the proper communication tool will enable you and your lone workers to stay connected at all times. This will enable your employees to report any suspicious activity or concerns before an attack occurs and call for help, as well as to instantly communicate in the event of an assault.
That said, it is important to encourage and make your employees feel comfortable enough to communicate any concern they may have, however minor it may seem.
Connecteam tip: Connecteam’s online team chat enables you and your lone workers to easily stay connected, instantly share your status and send pictures or videos straight from the job site.
With the fully-searchable company employee directory, your employees can quickly lookup work contacts to make a phone call, send an email, or start a private chat conversation straight from the app.
Know Your Employees’ Whereabouts
Knowing your lone workers’ real-time location is crucial in dispatching help as fast and efficiently as possible.
With the right GPS tracking app, you will be able to monitor your employee’s real-time location, even if your lone worker is unable to communicate.
A GPS system will moreover allow you to see any unusual movement and consequently contact your employee to see if something is wrong or help is needed.
Connecteam tip: View your lone worker’s live and accurate location with the built-in GPS location tracking of Connecteam’s time clock app.
Provide Relevant Training
Make sure that your lone workers are aware and up to date on your company policy regarding workplace violence.
Your employees should also be given guidelines on how to identify and respond to threats, as well as how to report attacks.
Such information can be effectively communicated through training sessions, which can include role-playing scenarios and self-defense training programs.
Connecteam tip: Create digital training and courses with Connecteam’s employee training app. You can also easily upload existing training material, such as PDF files, videos, and links to incorporate into your training.
Make sure your employees fully understand the material by adding a custom quiz on the app.
Provide Safety Checklists
Have your lone employees complete well-drafted safety checklists upon starting and completing their shifts. This will help:
- The employees to take a moment to analyze their surroundings and identify potential hazards
- Give you a more structured insight into the environment your lone workers are working in
- Ensure certain safety procedures are adhered to, such as turning on the alarm and locking the doors
- Address potential hazards
Connecteam tip: Create your own custom digital checklists for your lone workers to complete and send back to you straight from their mobile devices. You can also track completion rates and set up auto-reminders to simplify daily processes.
Encourage Reporting Incidents
All too often assaults don’t get reported for varying reasons. It is therefore important to encourage your employees to report any type of attack and to give them the proper tools to do so.
Be sure to directly handle such reportings with grave concern and take the appropriate and required action as laid out in your company policy regarding workplace violence.
Connecteam tip: Allow your employees to directly report incidents using Connecteam’s custom digital forms, to which they can add images, location stamps, voice recordings, signatures, and more.
Entries are easily sent straight from the field to the office and are instantly available for further action.
Keeping Lone Workers Protected Going Forward
As the manager (or owner), it’s your responsibility to keep your team protected and safe. Especially if you don’t see them on a regular basis. Lone workers are no different.
How you protect your lone workers differs on the industry you’re in, but generally the guide we shared above covers all possibilities.
Remember to utilise technology to your advantage, a real-time link is key to ensuring safety.