Reducing the Risks Associated with Lone Workers
Working alone isn’t just dangerous for employees; it can also pose a lot of risks for organisations. The ability to mitigate and manage those risks can ensure organisations avoid negative implications on workers, prevent financial losses and improve productivity. Companies must have carefully planned and implemented lone worker safety programs that identify and address the unique hazards lone workers are likely to encounter.
At a very minimum organisations have a duty of care to ensure their employees are provided with a safe workplace free of recognisable hazards. Failure to do so can result in severe accidents or injuries and liability for the company. Here we explore some of the most significant risks that lone workers and companies face and ways to safeguard against them.
Defining a lone worker
The Healthy and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a lone worker as someone who works by themselves for a portion of their workday without close or direct supervision. In the UK alone there are an estimated 8 million lone workers making up 22% of the 31.2 million working population. Based on figures like these it is evident that lone workers make up a significant proportion of the workforce; however, a number of companies are still unsure of how many employees within their teams should be classified as lone workers.
The first step for organisations is determining who on their team should be considered a lone worker. However, it’s not always easy to make that decision, as the line between someone who is and isn’t a loan worker can sometimes be blurred. This issue is especially true as more people start to work remotely and split their time between home, the office, and other locations. Consider all the employees who spend most of their day in an office but then leave to conduct a portion of their work alone. According to the description above, those would be considered lone workers.
Let’s look at a few examples of lone workers:
- Engineers and maintenance personnel who travel between different locations for call outs and repairs.
- Truck drivers and couriers who drive long distances, sometimes through remote areas, with limited contact with others.
- Construction workers who perform tasks in a remote part of the project site, out of earshot and view of coworkers.
- Emergency services personnel such as law enforcement officers who spend the majority of their workdays responding to hazardous, high-stress situations on their own.
Today, most organisations have an established process for identifying and resolving workplace hazards. However, when you have employees who leave the controlled environment of your facility or job site, how do you protect them from the risks they may encounter?
Lone workers are exposed to many of the same hazards as other workers, except they do not have access (or have more limited access) to coworkers, supervisors, or organisational support. If they are involved in an incident or seriously injured on the job, there is no one around to assist or to alert emergency services, placing them at a much greater risk.
The range of risks lone workers can encounter during their shift changes rapidly as they move around. Here are some of the most common risks employers should be aware of to safeguard their employees.
Heat Stress: Lone workers often operate on their own in remote, hot environments for extended periods without easy access to food or water. Hot environments can result from climatic conditions or enclosed spaces, such as server rooms, tunnels or large machinery. Extreme heat is exceptionally hazardous, especially for those working without someone to ensure they’re taking the required breaks or monitoring for the warning signs of heat stress.
Fatigue: Many lone workers, like maintenance staff, are sent to different locations to install, repair or maintain infrastructure. Unplanned repairs or complications during maintenance can result in workers completing long shifts over extended hours and not much respite, which can lead to fatigue. While this is often underestimated in the workplace, the consequences can be catastrophic when you combine fatigue with other tasks such as driving long distances and operating heavy machinery near other workers of infrastructure.
Medical Emergencies: If an employee goes into cardiac arrest while at an office, most organisations have staff trained as a first aider who can provide support and contact emergency services until a medical team arrives. When a person works alone in a remote location, it is unlikely they will have access to the same level of support.
Crime: Often lone workers work in isolated areas which can make them vulnerable and a target for crimes such as robberies, hijacking and assaults. The risks for a lone worker are heightened given their situation and lack of immediate support available to them.
The organisational risks
Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and provide a safe work environment free of risks that can be avoided or minimised. Protecting employees from injuries isn’t just a legal requirement, it’s also good for business. Workplace accidents are costly, disrupt employee morale, and can destroy an organisation’s reputation in seconds.
Suppose an engineer carrying out repairs to a wind turbine in the early hours of the morning is seriously injured during shift while he is unable to get direct support from another colleague. It’s not uncommon for regulators to review the organisation closely to ensure that processes have been followed and all safety requirements have been implemented to protect that employee while litigation may also be taking place. Upholding your organisation’s duty of care is sometimes challenging, however it cannot be avoided under any circumstances. Early investment will ensure any negative ramifications can be minimised or avoided in the future and a positive workplace safety culture is created.
Mitigate and manage the employee and organisational risks
While lone workers can present significant risks for the employee and employer there are a few ways to overcome these issues:
Hazard Assessment: It’s crucial that companies do not only assess the hazards of work areas within their direct reach or control but also review the locations and environments that their lone workers are likely to be exposed to. These lone worker risk assessments must identify the most common hazards each loan worker will likely encounter during their shifts so informed decisions and mitigation plans can be made.
Lone Worker Policy: Companies must create a written health and safety policy around lone worker safety and ensure that loan workers understand the expectations. These policies should also be regularly reviewed and updated as environmental conditions, regulations and expectations change.
Employee Training: It’s not effective to only point out the hazards to employees; companies must provide training on best practices for identifying and mitigating the risks. Lone worker employees are isolated and they need to rely on their own skills and knowledge to stay safe more than others might. Providing them with the necessary tools and training is how companies can help.
Hazard Elimination: Identifying hazards is essential for creating a safer workplace. However, companies must also act on their findings by preparing and/or eliminating the dangers that lone workers are likely to encounter. Physiological data can often provide insights to help with planning. For example, a logistics company may find their drivers are much more fatigued after driving more than a certain amount of hours or when driving at particular times of the day. Using this information the organisation can ensure schedules and shifts are at optimal hours for safety and performance.
Communication: With no one physically present to keep an eye on lone workers, it’s essential to maintain consistent communication and schedule periodic check-ins on their well-being, health, and safety. Lone worker safety devices are one of the best ways to maintain contact with workers.
Preparation: Often in remote locations without easy access to help or supplies, preparation is key for injury avoidance. Lone workers should be equipped with emergency supplies like first aid kits, extra food and water, a fan and a canopy to stay comfortable and safe in extreme conditions.
Implementing a new type of buddy system
Working alone can be hazardous, but thankfully, modern technology has made massive strides in helping address those risks. Almost one in five (19%) lone worker professionals report having an accident and struggling to get help, while almost half (44%) stated they felt unsafe while at work. Lone worker safety devices ensure that employees are never truly alone and have quick access to the people who can offer help when they need it the most.
Bodytrak is a non-invasive, in-ear monitoring solution that accurately measures core body temperature, heart rate, and heart rate variability in one comfortable wearable device. It provides data-driven insights into how the body responds to extreme environments and work-related stressors so that leaders and medical staff can intervene when necessary to prevent an injury or even death.
Heat stress is a real threat to the health and safety of workers and has continued to gain the attention of businesses and regulators like OSHA. In addition, workplace injuries cost companies billions of dollars each year through medical costs, fines, loss of productivity and other operational costs, and studies estimate the cost of heat stress in the workplace will reach $2.5 trillion by 2030.
Thankfully, most companies can avoid this huge expense if they implement a solution focused on prevention. For example, lone worker safety devices from Bodytrak use accurate real-time data analytics and machine learning algorithms to keep your team safe and prevent incidents caused by heat stress and fatigue.
In addition, when your lone workers are in high crime areas or remote locations, communicating with and locating them quickly can make all the difference. Bodytrak’s SOS and geolocation features do precisely that. For example, suppose a lone worker experiences an attempted hijacking. In that case, they could trigger the SOS feature on their device, which would immediately alert management and provide their exact location so emergency services can respond.
Bodytrak’s precise monitoring platform provides companies with real-time data and insights that increase safety and productivity. Schedule a demo today to learn more about how Bodytrak can help you create a happier, healthier, and safer workplace for everyone.