Lone Worker Protection: Advice for H&S professionals

23rd July 2020

A number of businesses have had to embrace the idea of working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. While working from home is the new normal, some occupations make working remotely impossible. For these employees, it has been crucial that they and their employers take the necessary steps to ensure that they are protected and kept safe, from contracting and spreading the novel virus.

With the global outbreak, the topic of lone worker safety has been pushed to the forefront for many companies, with a reduced number of personnel in the field, throughout facilities and on the road. With the need for social distancing in all aspects of our lives, the rate of lone work for many organisations has increased significantly.

What is a lone worker?

A lone worker is someone who works by themselves, this includes independent contractors, freelancers or self-employed people. They often work without close or direct supervision and they exist in all sectors.

The rise in home working has emulated the rise in technology. Robust broadband means employees can now check-in with the office from their lounge, study, spare room, or just about anywhere with an internet connection.

With schools and colleges being closed due to the lockdown, it has meant that education institutions like Leeds City College have had to adapt to working from home to ensure the safety of their students and employees. However, this has not been the case for a number of people, including the college’s apprentices who may work in frontline positions within the NHS or healthcare setting, where their services at this time are needed.

At a time where work and life need to integrate much more successfully, remote working can be a positive thing in some cases. However, it is also full of downsides for both managers and employees, especially those in professions where health and safety is paramount.

For many lone workers, choosing to work from home indefinitely simply isn’t an option. Healthcare workers and nurses, for example, cannot just stop treating their patients. Equally, lone HGV drivers who are often self- employed, and need to keep working to provide for their families do not have the luxury of staying at home either especially now with a higher demand for product deliveries in supermarkets and other essential shops across the UK.

Meanwhile, the UK government has come under increasing pressure to review their lockdown measures, especially in terms of workplaces. While this is an ongoing discussion, it is important for employers to outline the range of issues that they need to consider in preparing offices, factories and warehouses for reoccupation once the lockdown is lifted.

Existing risk assessments may not cover Covid-19 risks and hazards in great detail. As a result, employers could develop a specific risk assessment strategy as part of their reoccupation planning. They must also consider how the key findings and controls from the risk assessment are effectively communicated to staff and stakeholders, as well as how they are implemented.

One other way to minimise the risk of spreading the disease between lone workers and the people they come into contact with, is by equipping them properly. This will look slightly different depending on the nature of the work but this will include, hand sanitisers, masks and gloves.

Establishing a healthy and safe working environment for lone workers can be different from organising the health and safety of other workers. Some things to consider in ensuring lone workers are not put at risk include: assessing areas of risk including manual handling, the medical suitability of the individual to work alone and whether the workplace or environment itself presents a risk to them. Additionally, having systems in place to keep in touch with them and respond to any incidents is crucial.

Why it is important to protect your lone workers

An effective lone worker policy can help to promote a strong safety culture among employees and reduce the risk of legal issues. A strong policy will also need to consider the potential risks that lone working employees face and offer best practice guidance.

A company’s lone working policy should include risks that an isolated worker may face and the measures that will be put in place to minimise the risk. It is also important to consider background information, purpose statements, as well as the organisational commitment that clearly-defined responsibilities, guidance on reporting incidents, plus any relevant support and contact details.

The ability to monitor lone workers in real-time is critical. Every organisation that employs isolated personnel must establish a live monitoring team with documented response protocols, employee contact information, escalation paths and alert preferences.

Developing an online mapping system that makes it easy to have full situational awareness for every scenario that may occur could also be helpful.

Organisations with lone workers must also implement a robust system of communication that operates without interruption in the event of an incident. Should that fail, a backup system where lone employees are able to contact the relevant support teams needs to be in place.

The coronavirus crisis is a challenging time especially for those who have to continue to leave their houses and perform their jobs alone in some instances. For organisations that are deemed essential, lone workers are often the reason the world can continue to deliver and receive goods and services that help keep people safe and the economy operating. By taking the measures discussed above, particularly providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), you will give your lone workers peace of mind and minimise the risk of them contracting and spreading the disease.

Now is the perfect time for organisations, large or small, to begin adopting and implementing processes that protect essential lone workers in the long run and that allow them to monitor threats and manage every incident from receipt to resolution efficiently and effectively during this unprecedented time.

Leeds City College