Work and Wellbeing 14 June 2018

The hidden workforce: How to protect your lone workers

Lone workers account for six million of the UK workforce.
There are over six million lone workers in the UK which represents about 20% of the UK workforce. They represent the hidden? workforce that is under-represented in an office they rarely frequent.

Lone workers can be found in most, if not all, organisations across industry and performing a varied set of functions for the business.

The NHS is one such organisation, employing up to 100, 000 (9% of its workforce) healthcare professionals who work on their own every single day.

There are significant challenges for organisations with lone workers that are often underestimated by senior management and misunderstood by managers.

This can often manifest itself by regarding lone workers as a nuisance? or heavy maintenance? because systems, processes and procedures are often designed around the majority (80%+) office-based staff.

Office based on-boarding processes and procedures are generally well understood; desk, chair, space, landline, laptop can be often allocated and deployed without issue, but lone workers often have differing requirements, and these can easily be interpreted as staff being awkward? or a nuisance? rather than simply having a different set of requirements to office-based workers.This can create resentment from both management and lone workers themselves.

Maintaining a coherent company culture that often is cultivated informally within an office environment (the so-called water cooler? chats) are weakened through remote and lone workers and more proactive and organised interactions and events are required to ensure company values and culture are shared and embodied equally among staff.

As important is the need to ensure positive relationships across the organisation. Whilst hierarchical structures might appear to be the main mechanism in order to execute strategy, the reality is that at ground level, it is positive relationships which are responsible for getting the job done.

Remote and Lone workers have less interaction and therefore the potential for less positive relationships exist and this can negatively affect productivity within and across teams.

The issue of duty of care also becomes more complicated when staff are not office-based and must be dealt with thoroughly.

The law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone. (Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999).

There is no magic process for this given that lone workers work in a variety of settings and environments, from working in a petrol station, working at home or in a care setting visiting a patient. Each scenario is different and requires a detailed analysis of risks along with a mitigation plan.

Lone workers, by their very nature, are at greater risk than office-based workers and need additional support. As many as 150 lone workers are either physically or verbally attacked EVERY day (British Crime Survey) and the Royal College of Nursing noted that more than 6% of lone workers in the NHS had been physically attacked.

These statistics should provide a stark reminder to those responsible for risk assessment and mitigation that such risks should not be treated as a theoretical tick-box exercise but a reality that needs to be addressed.

Risk assessment and mitigation needs to include the environment that the lone worker is subject to, the tasks the lone worker is expected to carry out, the associated risks with both environment and activities as well as compiling a list of potential scenarios and how they could be addressed.

This should include procedures, training, tools, technology and equipment that either prevent, mitigate or provide for the ability to escape harm and/or rapid response.

The very nature of lone working means that neither colleagues or management are by their side? to help advise, assist, support the lone worker in case of an adverse event.

Here is (non-exhaustive) list of areas organisations should consider;

Conflict Management Training:

The ability to de-escalate a situation before it becomes physical/violent.

Real-Time Risk Assessment and Awareness training:

There are many situations that cannot be foreseen or turned into a process/procedure so the ability for the lone worker to make this assessment and take appropriate action is critical when unable to contact their manager.

The provision of protective equipment and medical kit:


 
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