Businesses Warned Of Costs Of Inadequate Protection For Lone Workers

New legislation on corporate manslaughter has dramatically raised the potential costs to businesses that fail to adequately protect their staff and customers. That was the stark message from Nicole Vazquez, a consultant with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns to raise awareness of the issues around lone workers. Ms Vazquez, addressing an audience of business delegates at a Reliance Security Services conference in London on 3 March 2009, cited the example of the Hatfield train crash in which four people died. Network Rail was fined around £3m for the accident, but recent changes to legislation have come with a recommendation that a firm be fined up to 10% of its turnover if found guilty under the corporate manslaughter act – which translates to a potential £600m fine for the rail company had they been charged and found guilty under the new act.

However, Ms Vazquez cautioned that while the new legislation has made organisations revisit their safety provisions for workers, businesses were concerned at the additional costs this may entail. In addition, many lone workers take to their style of work through personal choice and are often loathe to make changes – such as staying in regular contact with their office – to their work patterns despite the demands of any new policies or procedures. Defining lone working is a difficult task in itself, ranging from the first and last person to enter and leave an office, to the salesperson on the road. Public services involve a high proportion of lone workers, which may involve visiting vulnerable people, or making inspecting or enforcing calls.  However, there are certain issues that are apparent among lone workers, which according to Ms Vazquez include:

  • People will act differently towards lone workers as opposed to more than one member of staff
  • Equally, lone workers may perform differently than when with colleagues
  • The likelihood of both verbal and physical aggression is higher
  • As a result, the impact of any incident that occurs may be greater to the individual and the business

Although the diversity of lone working made policies and procedures difficult to establish, Ms Vazquez outlined certain criteria that could be applied to the situation. Chief amongst these was planning – the more practical controls adopted in lone working situations, such as security issues and contact times, the safer the situation becomes. Estate agent Suzy Lamplugh left no contact and time details when she went to meet an unknown client in 1986. Her body was never found.

“The more preparation the lone worker makes prior to their appointment, the greater choice he or she has to affect the outcome,” said Ms Vazquez. She also made a distinction between “tracking” lone workers and “tracing”. The former might have negative implications for some workers and be seen as in some way compromising their autonomy. However, with modern communications technology and robust reporting procedures, keeping a trace on lone workers was an effective policy for the safety of one’s staff.

The issue of staff safety was also raised by Bill Fox, managing director of Maybo, a specialist conflict resolution consultancy. Underlining the importance of education and training of staff in dealing with conflict situations, Mr Fox said that there had been at least three restraint related deaths involving Security Industry Authority (SIA) licensed staff within the past two years. These were obviously extreme situations but on a broader level, preventing violence in the workplace made for a better, safer and more welcoming working environment, enhanced a business’s reputation, helped avoid criminal action and reinforced a company’s position in any civil action.

The best policy for preventing violence was to be proactive in assessing the risks and then putting measures in place to reduce their occurrence. The secondary level was to minimise the opportunity for potentially violent situations to escalate, for example through the use of good communication skills. However, should physical intervention be required, Mr Fox said that staff training in safe methods and knowledge of their responsibilities was essential, safeguarding all parties physically and legally.

The quality of security was also on the agenda in a briefing by Fraser Halliday, Reliance Security’s Director of Specialist Services, on the London 2012 Olympics. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event and the resources required – including security – have to match that,” Mr Halliday said. The huge scale of the requirements was demonstrated with some fascinating statistics including: Accommodation for more than 50,000 athletes, staff and media; 4,500 chauffeured cars required; 1,500 buses needed; Almost 10m spectators expected; Largest number of private jets ever assembled in the UK; 160 Olympic related events outside the Stratford site. For the security requirements: 10% of the UK’s police force deployed; Estimated 5,500 security officers and stewards; Around 100 search lanes; The largest CCTV contract ever awarded. The addition of so many approved security personnel has meant that the Olympics and educational establishments are planning a fast-track scheme in order to meet the target.

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