The turning of the year is often a time for making positive changes. Although it may not immediately spring to mind, improving the safety of lone workers should feature highly on every employer’s list of resolutions.
Working alone is perfectly legal and in fact part and parcel of many occupations, encountered by most employees at some point during their career. If the appropriate precautions and procedures are put in place this can often be carried out safely with no issue. However, lone working does come at a greater risk if problems do arise, these can not only be more dangerous if faced alone, but getting help can also be more challenging.
Slips, trips and falls are a common danger to workers, causing around a third of all non-fatal injuries to employees reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2016/17. It’s easy to see why this poses such an issue for lone working employees in particular, as injuries sustained from a trip or fall have the potential to incapacitate a worker to the point where they are unable to make others aware and get assistance.
Similarly, those working at height or with heavy, moving machinery are also vulnerable in the event of an accident occurring when they are alone. HSE figures show these to be among the biggest causes of fatal work-related incidents in 2016/17. The risks to lone workers increases significantly for those who work in remote areas that experience weak or no mobile coverage. Working in signal ‘blackspots’ makes simply phoning for help an impossibility.
A different issue but one which many public-facing workers may encounter is abuse from members of the public, both verbal and physical. Employees working in the community on home visits are especially at risk. There have been a number of cases reported in the media that highlight the danger of this, such as that of charity worker Ashleigh Ewing who was brutally murdered when she entered the home of a man suffering from mental health issues.
Over the past few years, violent assaults have been on the rise in England and Wales, with offences including ‘Violence against the person’ having risen by nearly a fifth from June 2015-16. This paints a very worrying picture for those working alone as the consequences of an attack can be far worse.
Ultimately, failure to provide adequate protection for workers can result in injury or death. According to statistics from the HSE, in 2016-17 around 5.5 million working days were lost as a result of workplace injuries, with a staggering 25.7 million days being taken off due to work-related ill health. In the same period there were 137 workers killed at work.
Employers have not only a moral obligation to protect employees under their supervision, but also a legal duty of care. Organisations must comply with health and safety legislation or they may be subjected to fines of up to £20 million and even face prosecution. Being found guilty of serious breaches can cause irreparable damage to a company’s reputation almost overnight. Taking staff welfare seriously reduces the risk of penalties and can also have a positive effect on staff morale.
So, as the new year begins it’s important for organisations to start as they mean to go on, by taking a fresh look at how they can not just protect lone workers but all employees in their care.