The buddy system is a safety procedure where one person in the team is responsible for monitoring the safety of another team member.
Often, you would have two individuals who operate as “buddies” who look out for each other. Buddy systems can also have more than two people, where one person is in charge to look out for the rest of their team.
A buddy system can be applied in many situations. For instance, pairing a new employee with a more experienced buddy to learn about health and safety risks and procedures during their induction period. Teams working in hazardous environments, such as mining, can also use the buddy system to look out for each other.
While the buddy system is an effective safety procedure when monitoring team members in person, it is not as effective as you might think for monitoring lone workers remotely.
This article explains why you shouldn’t rely on buddy systems to protect your lone workers and how you can leverage technology to keep your lone workers safe in a more comprehensive manner.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines a lone worker as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”.
Working alone does not mean that the employee is not part of a team, nor does it mean that they are not around anyone else. It simply means that their team members are not within sight or hearing range.
For example, a shopping mall security guard surrounded by members of the public but does not have any colleagues on the same floor is considered a lone worker.
Every employer is responsible for their lone worker's safety and must take reasonable steps to protect them from the hazards they face.
According to HSE’s lone worker safety guidelines, employers must maintain regular contact with lone working employees. Lone workers must also have a way they can call for help when they need it.
While most employers in the UK adhere to this, our research revealed that a significant amount of employers do not meet these requirements.
In a recent market study that Vatix conducted, “The State of UK Workplace Safety 2021”, 23% of those who engage lone workers do not use a standardised approach or any solution to monitor their lone workers.
Those who do use a system to monitor their lone workers favour buddy systems. 40% of our survey respondents say they use an informal buddy system to monitor their lone workers.
A buddy system remains popular as it is a low-cost legacy system that many employees are used to. At a very basic level, they do provide lone workers with some level of protection.
Regular check-ins maintain contact with lone workers. If a lone worker needs to call for help in an emergency, they can call their buddy who is on duty to come to their aid or call for emergency help.
One of the most significant advantages of buddy systems is that they utilise an employee’s personal mobile phone or a company-issued one, which means employers don’t need to invest in additional equipment.
There will also be very low resistance since most people already use mobile phones in their daily life.
So, if buddy systems are easy to implement and cost-efficient, why do we advise against relying on buddy systems to protect your lone workers? It’s because buddy systems have four major shortcomings when it comes to monitoring lone workers remotely.
In some situations, lone workers can call their buddy to report a hazard or request help. However, four particular situations will make it difficult—if not impossible—for lone workers to reach out to their buddies.
Lone worker safety solutions, such as Safe Pro, overcome these top four pitfalls of buddy systems for monitoring lone workers.
In summary, while buddy systems have many advantages and applications as a workplace safety system, they are not the most suitable system for monitoring lone worker safety.
To learn more about how you can improve the way you protect lone workers and other vulnerable employees, download a free copy of our Ultimate Guide to Lone Working Safety. You can also contact us for a free demo of Protector, the only employee-led software with integrated lone worker safety solutions and digital incident reporting.