The first step towards fostering a safe and productive environment for your at-risk workers is learning everything you can about the history of lone working. Discovering how this crucial part of the global workforce was forged and has evolved will lead decision-makers to the right choices when it comes to those for whom they’re responsible.
We’ve put together a guide to some of the ways in which lone working has changed from the dawn of time to now and, with innovation happening so rapidly, what health and safety for lone workers could look like in the near future.
Lone working throughout history
Lone working has been a part of civilisation since the beginning of time, with jobs like hunting, shepherding and exploring all requiring workers to operate on their own or in high-risk positions away from their central ‘teams’. That’s tens of thousands of years of lone working, but we can safely assume that the cavemen of yesteryear weren’t taking the proper precautions against accidents or injury.
These roles in society most likely helped set in motion the concept of community as we experience it today, with innovation in industries such as agriculture relying heavily on one person doing the work of many. Hunter-gatherer families wouldn’t only take care of the needs of their own partners and children (and parents and extended families and so on) but would likely appoint the person best equipped for the job to collect food and other supplies for the whole group.
This meant that others could concentrate on their own equally challenging tasks, like forming armies, nurturing families or pushing forward the intellectual development of the human race. No biggie.
Lone working has obviously come a long way since those heady times, with the descriptor now applying to people across a vast range of industries ranging from repair technicians commuting to job sites to developers working from their desk at home. Then there’s real estate agents and fishermen, journalists and cross-country lorry drivers - the list includes hundreds of thousands of unique roles performed by lone workers.
Working alone today and beyond
In modern society, more and more people are working alone, whether they’re required to by the specifics of their roles, or have chosen to work remotely to avoid the lengthy commute into an office every day. The rise of modern technology has empowered both employers and employees to create a more versatile job market and also to make remote or lone working much safer to perform.
Over the last few decades, governments have created strict laws around employee safety that must be followed to avoid the harsh penalties given out to employers who breach them. The lasting positive impact of this has been tremendous, with many of the most life-threatening dangers that used to be inherent to working alone now far less common.
Of course, lone worker solutions aren’t just vital to keeping those working alone safe from abuse or harm, but can also be crucial to ensuring that at-risk workers in environments such as factories, warehouses and more are also protected. So while many of the laws passed between the 1970s-1990s don’t mention lone workers specifically, they are written in a way that offers an umbrella of protection for a vast array of different workers in a variety of conditions.
It can be shocking to read some of these laws today, as it’s hard to imagine a reality in which things such as giving employees access to a bathroom or water wasn’t seen as essential. To a modern reader, businesses that fail to provide the necessary resources for their workers would likely be viewed as entirely irresponsible and neglectful.
That’s why those responsible for lone workers - whether that’s HR, the boss of a small company or a dedicated health and safety department - need to consider how they adapt to this new landscape carefully.
Duty of care for lone workers
Health and safety laws in the UK now clearly state that employers are responsible for protecting the health, safety and welfare of employees and anyone else who could be affected by the actions of the business. This would include all reasonable steps such as a determination of potential risks and plans put in place to minimise them, providing training and first-aid facilities and ensuring that all work-related deaths, injuries, disease and even near misses are reported.
But how can employers keep track of these things - which can range from the trivial to the incredibly serious - when the worker in question is entirely out of sight?
A mixture of software and hardware can be the key here, with platforms such as Protector from Vatix helping health and safety managers to keep a real-time record of where lone workers are, where they’ve been and - with workers able to log incidents quickly and easily with a dedicated device - what happened. It’s even possible to self-monitor this activity, with alerts forwarded to chosen contacts.
While it’s undoubtedly true that lone workers have been a part of the economy for thousands of years, the growth and transformation of laws and regulations put in place to protect them have quickly been pushed into the digital age. Remote working and at-risk jobs are here to stay, and safety rules and policies must innovate to match.
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