How to manage the main risks to lone workers

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Posted on 7th May, 2020 | By Lorretta Tatham

Lone working has long been a permanent fixture of some industries, but the recent onset of the Covid-19 crisis means that more and more employers are having to rely on it in light of the national lockdown measures. Therefore, if your employees are regularly working alone, it’s more important than ever that you’re appropriately managing the risks. Some examples of people who frequently work alone include delivery drivers, health workers or engineers, security staff or cleaners, and people at warehouses or petrol stations. Below are some of the key risks that such employees may face, and what employers can do to mitigate them.

Stress and mental health or wellbeing

As you might expect, having nobody to talk to can often make workers feel isolated. What’s more, having no immediate physical support available can sometimes result in mental pressure to do their jobs effectively, or cause worry about their ability to handle certain unexpected situations alone. It’s also not uncommon for certain lone workers to find themselves working late or irregular hours, which can often end up exacerbating the effect on their mental wellbeing.

What employers can do

One of the biggest measures you can take against this is to simply keep in touch. Ensure that there are procedures in place to enable employees to have direct contact with their colleagues or managers, allowing any signs of undue stress or mental strain to be recognised as soon as possible. It’s also worth proactively checking on them on a regular basis, and continually monitoring their health. For example, lone HGV drivers tend to suffer from high physical and mental demands from spending long hours behind the wheel, and certain working cultures and mindsets mean they’re less likely to seek help on their own.

Medical suitability to work alone

Certain physical or medical conditions can complicate a situation around lone working. For example, if an employee has a bad back, then it may prohibit them from undertaking certain manual handling jobs – which can be problematic for delivery drivers and those in similar industries. A lone worker can also be at even more severe risk if they suffer from a condition like asthma or heart issues, if their work is frequently physically intensive.

What employers can do

It’s wise to first and foremost act on medical advice, and base all subsequent decisions on that. It’s worth considering what sort of routine work, and medical emergencies, that might place them under particular physical or mental strain. It’s also worth thinking about whether any responsibilities can be shared with another employee, saving them from any tasks which might have the most potential to cause them harm. Training should be another key focus – employees potentially at risk should have ample access to first aid equipment and facilities, as well as receive at least a basic level of first aid training, including instruction on how to treat themselves, should the need arise.

Violence in the workplace

Some workers can be at risk of violence, and especially so if they’re working alone. Those in roles which involve direct contact with the public are often most at risk, such as security guards. (For example, security guards in hotels might frequently find themselves dealing with intoxicated members of the public, who can occasionally become belligerent.) Couriers are amongst the other workers who can also be at risk, as they can often be carrying money or other valuable equipment.

What can employers do

Again, providing effective training is one of the core measures that employers can take against the potential for violence in the workplace. Developing procedures to deal with unexpected situations, and equipping employees with this knowledge in advance, can help them identify where and when they might be most at risk, and deploy the appropriate response (such as de-escalation techniques). Besides that, employers can also monitor and keep in touch, while maintaining pre-agreed intervals of regular contact. It’s also a good idea to have in place other devices for raising the alarm, operated manually or automatically.

Risks associated with the work environment

The most dangerous types of workplaces are often those in rural or isolated areas, and in fact the relative isolation is one of the many reasons why agriculture is one of the UK’s most dangerous industries. Certain work environments can be home to particularly hazardous elements – such as heavy machinery – and the isolation of other areas may mean that help could take longer to arrive in an emergency than it would in more densely populated areas.

man using workshop machinery

What employers can do

Once more, effective training is one of the most effective measures that employers can take. Since it’s harder for lone workers to get help, it’s best to give them additional training about what routine hazards they may face, and the most likely emergency scenarios. Wherever possible, they should be trained in technical solutions too, and able to recognise when they should get advice from a colleague with more experience or specialist expertise.

Before any type of lone work commences, a risk assessment will be necessary to determine the level of supervision necessary. The findings will also be influenced by the employee’s ability to identify and handle notable health and safety issues. Finally, it’s wise to regularly test all systems and procedures that you’ve put in place, to ensure that they remain flexible and fully cognisant of any evolving circumstances. Right now, since we’re in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, that means ensuring that they’re adhering to social distancing guidelines, and that they’re equipped with the appropriate PPE, as a bare minimum.

At the time of writing (late April, 2020), our Health & Safety training courses are currently suspended in line with government guidance, but we are still taking bookings for August, and we hope to resume our courses as soon as it is practically safe to do so. Watch this space! In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to give us a call on 01282 615517.

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