‘My staff are low-risk, so we don’t need a lone working system.’
Every day at Vatix, we come across companies that are convinced that their staff is low-risk. Consequently, they don’t see why they would have a need for a formal lone working process or any lone worker solutions.
Instead, they may employ an informal system such as WhatsApp, or they may have no processes or tools in place at all. However, is this the best approach? If not, what should you do to ensure the safety of your staff in all situations?
Below we look at the validity of the “no solution” approach to lone worker safety and break down why companies may be putting themselves at risk by not following a process and employing a lone worker safety solution. We will cover:
Firstly, all employers have a legal obligation to staff: they must ensure that a lone worker is at no more risk than a staff member surrounded by colleagues.
In brief, key legislation, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, imposes obligations on employers, among which:
Failure to adequately protect lone workers can lead to fines being levied against the business by the HSE. You can read more in our complete guide to lone working in the UK.
Wherever a company has employed a lone worker, they should complete a lone working risk assessment to identify the dangers they might face. As part of that assessment, you should assign a level of risk.
Here is an example to put this in perspective: Robert is an office worker in a shared building who comes in over the weekend when the office is empty. It’s commonly known that he does this and so a risk assessment is completed to ensure that it’s safe for him to come in. As part of that risk assessment, it is identified that there is the possibility for him to encounter other people within the building. He is therefore instructed to make sure that the office is secure when he is alone, mitigating the risk and nullifying the need for a lone worker system.
It is important and right for risk mitigation to take place with lone working. Here are a few examples of this:
If all of this is done, then you have correctly marked staff as low-risk. However, there is a clue in the name: the notion of “low-risk” contains an implicit acknowledgement that there is a risk, however small and no matter the job role.
If we return to the scenario of Robert, he may grow comfortable in the office as he has never experienced an incident. Let’s say he forgets to lock the office and then finds himself in a confrontation with someone else in the building. You may think this is unlikely, and it may be, but low-risk does not mean an absence of risk.
For companies who have completely understood the importance of lone worker risk assessments, the natural question is what can be done after a comprehensive assessment followed by staff training.
After all, employers cannot be expected to guard their staff against all risks, on a 24/7 basis. Therefore, it can be tempting to think that you don’t need to do anything else because, as we have seen above, there can never be an entire absence of risk.
This is where we find that a lot of companies can misstep when it comes to procuring a lone working system. The thinking tends to be that you procure a lone working system, whether a device or an app-based solution, as part of the risk mitigation activities for lone working. But this is not entirely accurate.
A lone worker alarm is not designed to prevent an incident. The lone working unit will not prevent staff from forgetting to follow procedure or stop a member of the public from acting out at them. Effectively, a complete elimination of risks is not possible.
However, a lone working alarm can alert about an incident taking place and will be crucial for a worker’s safety in critical scenarios. It also constitutes an important safety net and provides employees with reassurance that there will be a response in case they find themselves in need of help.
Let’s go back to our example. Robert is a ‘low-risk’ worker who has now found himself in a dangerous situation. How long would it take for the alarm to be raised if he cannot work his way out of it? Lone working devices are not there to fully prevent risk - they are an accounting of risk and a warning system for when other strategies go wrong.
Consequently, once you accept that risks exist for all your lone workers, then you must have a way for them to raise the alarm in critical situations.
When we ran our 2021 Health and Safety report, many managers selected that they did not have a dedicated lone worker system in place. Instead, they used an internal system such as Whatsapp to confirm that staff were safe.
However, there are intrinsic questions as to how robust a system this is for alerting about risks and critical situations for lone workers. If a staff member doesn’t message their buddy at the agreed time, should the alarm be raised immediately?
It seems more likely that a staff member may presume that another has simply forgotten to check in, or even forgotten that they are supposed to expect a message.
Human error plays too large a potential part in this scenario, as opposed to a reliable alarm-raising system that takes the guesswork out of keeping staff safe.
Lone worker safety is about raising the alarm as soon as possible - whether at the exact moment of the slip/trip/fall, or cascading alerts the second that check-ins may be missed. Unless you can guarantee that staff are following your procedures to the letter each time, then the margin of error for the system quickly becomes high.
When a company says that they don’t need a lone worker system because their teams are exposed to low levels of risk, they are almost certainly ignoring potentially severe underlying problems.
As an employer, you should always be asking yourself not only how you reduce the risk to staff on the job, but how you would raise the alert should a staff member have a problem.
Who would handle that alert? Do you have trained first responders who would be comfortable if they had to talk a colleague through an issue, or would they find it too stressful?
If you find yourself unable to address these points, then your current internal approach may fail a stress test. Suddenly, ‘low-risk’ staff members may find themselves in a higher risk situation than needed because they are kept waiting for required support.
This is why we recommend consulting with a specialist and getting a demonstration of our Protector product - a great way to protect your lone workers with an intuitive, easy to use solution.
If you’d like to talk more about how Vatix works with organisations to ensure staff are supported no matter their risk profile, then feel free to get in touch with us today. And, for additional resources to help you optimise your staff’s safety, consult our Ultimate Guide to Lone Worker Safety.