In a previous post we looked at how incidents in the workplace were the more common but often unconsidered side of properly protecting people in the workplace. Incidents often seem innocuous and not as readily documented as accidents, but the end result can be equally serious, both for the employee and the employer with the duty of care. In a similar vein, in this post we examine the risk to workers who are not necessarily in vulnerable situations, but are certainly in isolated circumstances, often for many hours a day.
When companies think of protecting their people who work alone, what generally occupies their thoughts and investments is catering to working conditions that by their nature put workers in vulnerable or dangerous situations. Guarding against accidents and assaults is foremost in their minds. What tends to not get the attention is the workers who work in isolation, where the risk of danger, vulnerability or accident might at first thought seem negligible.
The world of work, thanks in large part to advances in technology like the Internet, has become much more flexible. Many more employees are working remotely, from their home office, or a small, shared office space, or in roles where they are travelling alone a lot. Many more people are setting up their own business, as consultants and entrepreneurs with flexible working practices, managing their own time, with a lot of their creative time spent on their own. It’s no wonder that in the UK lone workers are at record high numbers, around 8 million people. We’re seeing a major shift both in how work is done and in our work/life balance.
We’re used to thinking about the risks of isolation to single elderly people. Now it’s time to consider seriously the risks of isolation to the sizeable and growing population of younger working people, the home office workers, the consultants, contractors and entrepreneurs. We can group these risks into incidents, accidents and mental health.
Incidents in the Home Office
A variety of incidents in the home office can incapacitate us and make it impossible for us to get help. Most of them are health related, covering sudden illnesses like heart attack, stroke, sickness, dizziness, fits and allergic reactions. Even though we might be well organised and have our medication standing by, it might not be possible for us to get to or administer what we need ourselves. If we’re on our own and no-one can see or hear us...
Working alone at home also puts us at risk of physical violence, from intrusion into the property or forcible entry and assault. If our home happens to be in an underpopulated area, it’s unlikely a neighbour will see, hear or suspect anything, so there’s no response we can hope for.
Accidents in the Home Office
Accidents in the home office are very similar to lone worker accidents in any isolated workplace. The home is also a place where slips, trips and falls occur, as well as accidents involving cooking or power that lead to cuts, bruises and burns. The majority of these are innocuous enough, but when there’s a serious event, then we have to ask ourselves what is the recourse of action. In many cases, if we're on our own, there is no recourse, no plan B.
As with incidents, the home office accident is like the accident in the company where a lone worker might not be in contact with anyone else. The risks need to be assessed, and an adequate emergency response process needs to happen, even when the person affected can’t trigger the alarm themselves.
Mental Health in the Home Office
Spending large periods of time on our own means that we’re dealing with the stresses and strains of our daily lives ourselves. Starved of human interaction, it’s not uncommon for home workers to get cabin fever and head out to break the monotony. With no-one else around to discuss and share problems with, we have to guard against our mental health suffering, and the last thing we want is for this to escalate into more extreme measures when there’s no-one else around to help us. As more people go it alone in business and spend more time in their own company, the more we need to respond by putting in safety valves and safety nets – perhaps using the same Internet-based technology that has freed us up to work alone in the first place – in order to mitigate this considerable shift in working practices.
The risk of isolation is the silent risk, the risk that gets far less attention than the more transparent risks associated with vulnerable or dangerous professions. People working in isolated situations need protection, or they need to protect themselves, depending on who employs them.
Talk to us about how you can help your people manage their isolation – as well as their vulnerability – in the workplace.