People can find themselves working solo in a variety of sectors, all of which carry different risks. Some of the most challenging from a health and safety perspective can be the likes of offshore wind, where people are miles from medical care and where assistance can take time to arrive.
But there are situations that necessitate lone working, so what should your company be doing to ensure that all solo workers are safe?
There are a number of things to consider with lone workers, although emergency preparedness and response will be high on the list. We’re going to look at some of the things you need to consider when preparing to send people out to work alone, whether on an offshore wind farm or in the community as a healthcare worker, for instance.
Lone workers: what are the risks?
Although the risks to lone workers will vary by sector, there are some common areas that you should consider. A recent article for Open Access Government explored some of the most important things to think about, noting that there are some key categories that you should work through when completing a risk assessment.
The first is person and people. This means anyone that your worker may come into contact with in the course of carrying out their work.
It can be easy to think of a lone worker as someone who’s completely isolated, but this isn’t necessarily the case. A lone worker can be a social worker who’s visiting families in the community, for instance.
The second is equipment and environment. This is likely to have more bearing on someone working in the energy or offshore wind sectors, but can also apply in other industries. It’s about considering what will pose a risk to a worker’s safety. Remember to consider the lack of certain equipment (e.g. medical supplies) as well as the things that could injure someone.
Environment may be harder to assess, especially if your employees work outdoors where the weather can be a factor. In this case, the best advice would be to plan for the worst conditions, knowing that more favourable weather will make that person safer.
The final category is tasks and triggers. This is where you need to think about what your lone worker will be doing and whether any of the tasks they have to complete could put them in danger. If yes, you need to consider how to mitigate those risks to make it as safe as possible.
Identifying all these risks is just one part of the process though. Once you know what you need to think about, you need to develop policies and procedures to keep people as safe as possible.
It goes without saying that thorough training will be vital to ensuring the health and safety of your lone workers.
You also shouldn’t treat this as a tick-box exercise, setting it aside and never looking at it again once it’s written initially. Our workplaces are evolving and with new technology constantly being introduced it’s important to adapt and adjust policies and procedures as necessary.
What about mental health?
If someone is a lone worker they are, by their nature, working solo. That means they’re unlikely to have face-to-face contact with managers or other colleagues on a daily basis. For managers, this can make it more challenging to spot when someone is struggling with their mental health.
IOSH Magazine recently stressed the importance of avoiding the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when it comes to lone workers.
The news provider pointed out that those who work solo have the same needs as any other employee in terms of needing to feel supported by their manager, having the right tools for their work, being trained appropriately and having the confidence to deal with problems should they arise.
It added: “Above all, they need to feel that they are important members of a wider team that celebrates collective success through meaningful and frequent dialogue with peers and managers.”
Using technology, such as video call software, where it’s not practical to arrange regular face-to-face catch ups is recommended. Arranging social events for the team, provided they are located in a similar area even if they don’t directly work together, is another way to foster a sense of inclusion.
Making sure that the communication channels are open is essential so that any lone worker who feels as though they’re struggling is able to reach out for help before they are forced to take time off work due to the likes of anxiety, stress or depression.
Providing training to help lone workers themselves recognise the symptoms and factors that are affecting their wellbeing negatively is also advisable.
Technology is constantly evolving and there are now a host of devices and equipment that can be used to better secure the safety of those working solo.
Wearable technology in particular can be useful for lone workers. Depending on the type of work your staff undertake, there are a host of options that allow them to be monitored during the course of their working day, and that can alert someone if something isn’t right.
EHS Today recently highlighted some of the developments in wearable tech that could be useful. Anything that doesn’t require a positive action from an employee to activate in an emergency is a useful tool.
One company in the UK - Tended Protect - has recently received funding support for its concept. The idea is a wearable device, similar to a fitness tracker, that monitors your movements and activities.
Should your movement deviate from the norm, the device will automatically alert someone who can check in on you and send assistance if necessary. Insider Media explained that the device will also have the ability to deliver audio communication, which can be opened remotely should the wearer be unresponsive to the device’s safety check.
EHS Today also suggested that using a wrist tether on a mobile phone that automatically sends a call for assistance should the tether be removed can work in some situations.
In a lone worker scenario, it’s vital that it’s as easy as possible for them to call for help should they need it. The news provider pointed out that this also has the added benefit of improving employee confidence.
By knowing that help is easily accessible should they need it, a worker is likely to be much calmer and less stressed when carrying out their day to day tasks.
IT Pro Portal also recently highlighted examples of wearable tech that can be adopted by lone workers. A smart phone app that allows them to quickly call for help or send an alert is one option - and given the prevalence of smart phones one that could be rolled out very quickly at most organisations.
Another piece of technology that could have a multitude of applications is smart glasses, which allow the wearer to video conference with others, while showing them what they see. In the case of someone working offshore, such as on a wind farm, this could be an invaluable way of accessing real-time support from other team members or those with different expertise.
Of course, no technology is completely foolproof, so it’s essential to have backups in place should any of these systems fail. This is particularly important for those who may not be close to civilisation, and therefore unable to call on anyone nearby to help should they get into difficulty.
Robust training practices and a comprehensive risk management strategy should all help to ensure your lone workers stay safe and healthy while on the job.