People are required to work alone in roles across all industries. Whether it’s housekeepers cleaning remote areas of hotels, nurses caring for patients in private rooms or retail workers operating remote locations single handedly, millions of people spend at least a portion of their day without any co-workers nearby.
Lone working can put employees at increased risk of suffering a workplace injury and workplace violence. People working alone can be an easy target for aggressive customers and passersby. They can also find it difficult to summon help when they suffer an accident in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leading causes of non-fatal injury among US workers in 2019 was slips, trips and falls. The second-most common cause was being struck by a moving object.
Addressing these safety issues with a comprehensive lone worker safety policy will mitigate the risks faced by your employees. This can help to keep all of your workers safe, no matter their location, working conditions or responsibilities.
What is a Lone Worker Safety Policy?
A lone worker safety policy is essentially a thorough risk assessment that focuses on the particular health and safety issues faced by lone workers. A lone worker safety policy should clearly identify the risks faced by employees working alone.
It should also provide detailed information on how workers can minimize these risks and the measures the employer will take to keep workers safe. The policy can also be used to detail any relevant safety training required by the organization and to show the employer’s commitment to workplace safety.
Why Do You Need a Lone Working Safety Policy?
The health and safety of employees should be an organization’s top priority. All employees, including lone workers, deserve the same protections, no matter their working environment.
The number of lone workers in the US is increasing fast. For example, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, just 17% of US workers reported working from home five days a week. Now that figure is 44%.
As well as this legion of home workers, millions more work alone in retail spaces, healthcare settings, hotels and other businesses in the hospitality industry. Not having a co-worker nearby can put these employees at increased risk. For instance, it can be difficult – or even impossible – to summon help if a customer, guest or patient becomes aggressive or acts in a threatening manner.
If a lone worker is incapacitated by a slip, trip or fall, or suffers another workplace injury, they may be unable to call for help or summon an emergency response. This can delay essential medical treatment and result in a more significant incident.
Creating a lone working policy can help to protect these high risk employees. Identifying specific issues, and describing the safety measures that are in place to reduce inherent risks, lone worker safety policies are essential for all businesses that require their employees to operate alone.
The Important Elements of a Lone Worker Safety Policy
The safety risks that lone workers face are specific to their locations, their responsibilities, and their working conditions. Because of these variables, all lone worker safety policies need to be customized to the specific occupational safety issues that affect your organization and your employees.
A lone worker safety policy should contain a number of key elements. These include:
- Showing the organization’s commitment to creating a safe working environment
- Making employees aware of the specific risks they face when working alone
- Detailing the steps that workers can take to minimize risks
- Providing information on incident reporting procedures
- Giving employees a clear channel of communication through which they can report safety concerns
Demonstrating a commitment to creating a safe working environment is important as it fosters engagement with employees and gives direction to line managers when rolling out safety procedures.
Your lone worker safety policy should begin with a clear statement outlining your organization’s commitment to lone worker safety and the steps you intend to take to mitigate the risks lone workers face and improve well-being for all of your employees.
One of the most important functions of a lone worker safety policy is to make employees aware of the specific risks they face in their place of work. Understanding the risks involved in their work can help employees to better protect themselves and to be more alert when carrying out potentially dangerous tasks.
A good lone worker policy should detail the steps that employees, managers and the organization will take to minimize risk and reduce injury in the workplace. These measures could include providing relevant personal protective equipment (PPE), issuing employees with personal safety devices or running health and safety training programs.
Your policy might also detail a lone worker check-in process through which employees can use a cell phone to contact their managers at set intervals. If a check-in is missed, the manager will automatically be alerted that something is wrong.
Reporting incidents that do occur in the workplace is an important part of improving worker safety. Your lone worker safety policy should include information on how to report a slip, trip, fall or any other type of accident or incident. Reporting these incidents can help to enhance understanding of the risks lone workers face and, in turn, improve the management of health and safety issues in the workplace.
Lastly, your policy should include information on who employees should contact in case of an emergency and who they should speak to if they have any concerns about their safety. Providing a phone number for workers to call will help to ensure good, open communication between employees and managers and create a positive, safe, working environment.
Steps for Creating Your Lone Worker Policy
As all workplaces are different, there isn’t a set policy template to follow. Instead, your policy will need to be created, adapted and customized to suit your organization.
Identify Lone Worker Roles
The first step in creating a comprehensive lone worker policy is to identify the lone worker roles within your organization. This may be more complicated that it first seems as, while some roles - like delivery driver, at home health worker or lone shop assistant – may be obvious, others are less clear cut.
For example, if you run a hotel, there may be housekeepers or maintenance staff that work alone periodically. These employees will also need to be covered by your policy.
A good way to get a clearer picture of the lone workers in your organization is to survey your employees. Ask them if they ever work alone, how long they’re alone for and if co-workers are within earshot when they’re operating in isolated areas.
Assess the Risks
The second step in creating your policy is to assess the risks your lone workers face. These risks will be different for each workplace and, often, for each employee within that workplace.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an online list of recommended practices for health and safety programs that includes guidance on hazard identification and assessment. These OSHA guidelines are a good place to start when assessing the risks faced by lone workers in your organization.
These recommendations advise organizations to:
- Collect existing information about known hazards in the workplace (this can be done through employee surveys, by analyzing company records and looking at current health and safety programs)
- Inspect the workplace for safety hazards (carrying out regular job site inspections can help to identify existing and emerging hazards)
- Identify workplace hazards (Hazards that are identified during inspections should be clearly noted and included in any safety report)
- Conduct incident investigations when injuries do occur (clear reporting procedures should be put in place to aid investigations)
- Identify hazards associated with emergencies or non-routine situations (this could include civil unrest or natural disasters)
Defining who’s responsible for the measures outlined in your policy is an essential part of creating a lone worker safety policy. This part of the process will ensure that the policy is properly implemented both on a day-to-day basis, and in an emergency.
Make sure that these responsibilities are clearly identified and allocated in your policy and that employees and managers are aware of the particular roles they’ve been given.
Why are Risk Assessments Important for Lone Workers?
Risk assessments are important for lone workers as they make both the worker and their employer aware of the occupational health and safety hazards they face. This gives organizations the opportunity to properly address these hazards and implement safety solutions.
Lone workers can be particularly vulnerable to attack from aggressive customers, as well as slips, falls and other workplace hazards. Lone workers can find it difficult to summon help following an incident and can be at higher risk of suffering an injury or assault in the workplace.
Highlighting hazards, and creating effective solutions, are two of the most important ways organizations can reduce injuries and incidents in the workplace and keep lone workers safe.
How ROAR Can Help Keep Lone Workers Safe
ROAR wireless panic buttons are already being used to help keep lone workers safe. These systems are ideal for use in organizations where employees are required to work alone as they allow workers to call for help instantly, wherever they are on the premises.
ROAR was recently part of a pilot scheme in conjunction with Be Well. The goal of the scheme was to improve safety for workers and service users in a medical setting. It took place over two Be Well psychiatric floors.
As part of the pilot scheme, we installed domes around our beacons to avoid them being used as ligatures for hanging to protect patients. We also added signs throughout the facility notifying patients that staff is outfitted with safety devices. This measure alone helped to reduce the frequency of assaults.