Lone workers face many challenges in the workplace, chief among them increased danger from both social and environmental hazards. While the latter, including risks such as slips, trips and falls or accidents due to working from height, are discussed regularly, social risks posed to lone workers are talked about less frequently. One example is the danger of being assaulted in the workplace but, in reality, how many lone workers are attacked every day?
According to statistics from the British Safety Council’s crime survey released in 2018, as many as 150 lone workers are attacked either physically or verbally every day in the UK.
Putting that number into context, while it’s estimated that between 6-8 million people across the nation can be classed as lone workers, it doesn’t take into account the threat of violence - just the reported incidents. The best outcome for situations where employees feel under threat is de-escalation, and this thankfully happens more often than not.
We believe that 54,750 lone workers being attacked each year is 54,750 too many.
The advent of Covid-19 restrictions has sadly put much of the responsibility for enforcing rules such as mask-wearing and social distancing onto the worker, placing them at greater risk of entering an antagonistic situation with a customer. For example, if someone enters a shop without a mask, it is often up to the sales assistant to question this.
The increased risk of being threatened or attacked is, unfortunately, something that must be carefully considered when performing a risk assessment for your lone workers, especially if they regularly work in secluded or remote areas, at night, or have significant contact with members of the public. Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers.
Before we dive into how attacks can be dealt with or prevented altogether, we should establish what lone working is. The term applies to those who work for all or part of the day on their own. This could be out in the field or away from co-workers and supervisors in a fixed location. It’s a term often used when speaking about health and safety.
You can find lone working jobs in a considerable number of industries, including construction, farming, real estate, cleaning and factory work. Some of the roles most at risk from being assaulted at work are:
Under the law, it is required that employers provide training, supervision and adequate monitoring for workers, as well as taking practical steps to mitigate the risks inherent to their employees’ roles. For lone workers, these steps may look a little different than usual, and employers should perform a detailed risk assessment to identify the areas in which additional measures need to be in place. To help you with this task, we have prepared a free template to perform this assessment.
Despite the slightly altered nature of their day to day roles, lone workers face many of the same hazards as non-lone workers. In addition to acts of violence, the four other most common causes of physical harm for lone workers are slips, trips and falls on the same level, handling, lifting or carrying, being struck by a moving object and falls from height.
A total of 111 workers were killed at work in 2019/20 and, according to the Labour Force Survey, 581,000 people sustained an injury at work during the same period.
The main difference, then, is the fact that those working alone are less able to call for help when they need it. If being threatened, burgled or otherwise made to feel unsafe, without the appropriate tools there is little an employee can do other than wait for the situation to resolve either way.
Those working on the road also face increased danger from issues like loss of communication with supervisors, breaking down at a time when assistance is hard to come by, or falling ill without co-worker there to raise the alert.
Organisations must introduce measures and technology in order to counteract these vulnerabilities for lone workers, or else they will be left unprotected.
Despite the startling numbers, there are a few things that both employers and lone workers themselves can do to limit the fallout from an attack directed at an employee. These include:
Lone worker alarms help staff stay safe in several ways, with SOS buttons that can be pressed whenever a safety issue arises, Man Down sensors that detect when a user has fallen, and real-time location tracking. All of these features would be useful in a threatening or violent situation, as employers would be able to see exactly where workers are as well as if they have been injured or attacked.
Users can also discreetly use these devices so as not to antagonise the situation further. They can add additional layers of security by choosing a codeword or phrase that would be understood by the contact alerted when a lone worker device has been activated. If the phrase is said, the operator knows to dial 999, for example.
With software like our own Protector™ by Vatix, user profiles can be set up with securely stored medical information and identifying features that can be life-saving should the emergency services need to be called to the scene.
With thousands of lone workers being attacked every year, employers must do everything they can to shield these employees from the physical and mental harm that is caused by feeling unsafe. An increased focus on training can be a vital part of the effort to minimise risk, but organisations must also consider investing in technology that can keep them safe.
To find out more about how Vatix can help your business protect vulnerable lone workers, or if you are interested in our services, contact us.