When it comes to the safety of your lone workers, it’s not an option to do nothing. You have to do something. What you do is about completing lone worker risk assessments, having a policy in place, putting a protection plan in place, and making your lone workers aware of all this. How you do it is a pretty broad spectrum, from getting by with the bare minimum to taking the highly automated, ‘belt and braces’ stance. In this first of a series of blog posts on manual approaches to protecting your lone workers, we look at the monitoring approaches employed by the majority of companies.
In the UK, the backbone of health and safety legislation dates back 40-some years to the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. Employers have a duty of care to keep their staff safe while they’re working, and “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work” of all their employees. This extends to the safe operation and maintenance of the workplace, getting in and out of it safely, the proper use and storage of dangerous substances or hazardous materials, and the adequate health and safety awareness and training of staff.
To be found negligent in this duty of care leaves the senior members of employers open to severe penalties, such as heavy fines and even prison terms. With the stakes so high for the management and the company itself, you can’t do nothing, as we’ve said. So what are companies doing?
In the vast majority of cases, companies cover themselves by setting up and documenting manual processes for protecting their staff, including their lone workers, so that they can demonstrate compliance with the responsibility of care. A clocking in and clocking out system lets employers know whether their employees are in the facility or away from the facility, and at what times they are in or out.
A clock-in, clock-out system could be a machine where staff punch a card, or it could be a more automated key card system that allows and records access to and from certain parts of the facility. It could also be an altogether simpler affair, using a whiteboard in a central place where staff write their names when they leave and cross their names off when they’re back, or vice versa. This process is generally documented and all new employers should be introduced to the process through training or by indicating they have read and absorbed the company handbook or operations manual.
This is all very well at a company-wide level, but the working environment of the lone worker is frequently different. For a start, as the name suggests, they’re lone, working on their own, either out ‘in the field’ literally or figuratively, or they’re inside a large facility where they might be difficult to locate. The nature of their job may also place them in hazardous or dangerous situations that impact their personal safety, either from the equipment and substances they work with, or from their location, or as a risk of assault or robbery. For lone workers, then, employers need to do more at a minimum.
For most companies taking a ‘least must’ approach to complying with their duty of care, it’s a question of throwing bodies at the problem. Many firms employ a security individual, one of whose primary roles is checking in with lone workers periodically. A typical approach is to call each lone worker every hour, speak to them, confirm that all is good, tick a box and move on to the next one, before repeating the roll call.
If a company has a relatively large lone workforce, or their lone workers are particularly hard to get hold of regularly, this can become the primary and full-time occupation of the security professional. In smaller set-ups, the manager is often called upon to provide and document this checking in facility as part of their regular job.
Manual protection is better than no protection
Faced with a horrific downside to not providing a duty of care to its key employees – not to mention the risk to the lone workers themselves – many companies take the minimal steps necessary to comply. They also take a traditional approach, hiring a person or making it someone’s responsibility to implement and maintain the written processes for healthy and safe working.
What we’ve touched on are manual processes and paper processes for monitoring, and in many cases they provide little more than lip service to the prevailing legislation. But, manual protection – and in fact any class of protection – is better than no protection at all.
What we haven’t touched on are the processes you need in place for this: what do you do if there is an emergency?
Talk to us about your manual processes for keeping your lone workers safe, and how you can improve them.