“The safety of those working alone has become a very important issue all over the world for employers. This has been reinforced recently by the latest NHS security figures revealing a 5.8 per cent rise in physical assaults against health service staff last year. Additionally, a report published by Transport for London (TfL) last quarter revealed an increase in workplace assault, 38% of which involved being either physically assaulted or threatened with a weapon.
“Lone working is the term used to describe employees that are required to work either in isolation from other workers or without direct supervision. The Office of National Statistics estimates there are between three to four million lone workers employed in the UK; this includes staff that work apart from their colleagues such as retail clerks and service station attendants, mobile workers such as health visitors, as well as those working outside standard hours such as cleaners, security guards and flexi-time office workers. Such staff are often exposed to a variety of risks at different frequencies because there is no-one to assist them, which in turn impacts on an employer’s duty of care.
“In recent years there has been a marked increase in publicity surrounding the issue and a number of changes in working practices appear to be occurring in many sectors in the UK. An increase in the number of campaigns such as the 2010 Lone Worker advice study published by Orange and Suzy Lamplugh Trust, and TfL’s current marketing poster strategy, are helping to increase public awareness of attitudes and behaviour towards this group of workers. However, it is still a concern that thousands of people across many sectors continue to be threatened or subjugated to physical violence whilst at work; it is estimated that more than 150 lone workers are attacked in the UK every working day.
“By definition, lone working can be both intimidating and at times dangerous, so the protection of lone workers involves the implementation of a number of strategies and tools to not only to provide safeguards but also to offer reassurance to the people involved. The recent changes to Health and Safety Guidelines (INDG73rev2) and the new BS8484 standard for Lone Worker services means businesses are more aware now than ever of their legal obligations to keep lone workers safe. The new policies encourage businesses to ensure a risk assessment is carried out and that strategies are implemented to provide safe working environment for at risk employees, as well as ensuring that employees have access to the relevant resources, training and information to work on their own safely. Additionally, all employers of lone workers are required to carry out a Risk Assessment on their Lone Working Staff if they have more than five employees, and to have procedures in place to deal with an employee having an accident or signalling an emergency.
“Not only are good working practices fundamental to employee safety, but in the last few years there has been a wave of new technology and products made available in the work place to assist in remedying this situation. Technological advances have made it easier for employers to safeguard their employees and simultaneously allowed us to more accurately monitor and record incidents. As with all areas of technology, mobile communications are constantly changing and evolving. This has directly impacted the security industry, allowing new and emerging products and services to develop. For example, NHS employees required to operate in the community are now supplied with discreet mobile devices to help them alert emergency response units in the event of a threatening situation. TfL staff also have access to a phone operated (one button push) system that provides direct communication to a control room that can offer support and request further assistance when required.
“The advancement in video monitoring also allows for virtual supervision and acts as an effective criminal deterrent. Virtually every workplace in the UK operates a CCTV surveillance system. However, many are not regularly monitored. Businesses that do have the capacity to monitor their CCTV and surveillance systems on a 24-hour basis will have staffed control rooms that ensure a rapid response to situations as they occur. A prime example of this is the dedicated CCTV investigation team that works in partnership with TfL, bus operating companies and police units to ensure the most effective use of on-bus CCTV, to reduce bus-related crime and bring secure prosecutions.
“Despite the progress, it is clear that lone worker safety remains a major concern for both the employer and the lone worker. It is important to seek solutions that fit the lone working application and risk profile of your workforce. Employers should frequently review their safety policies, carry out regular risk assessments, explore suitable technological aids and consider the health and safety of their lone workers as a core business priority”.
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