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Lone worker safety: how can you meet your duty of care to home workers?

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns faced by businesses across the globe there has been an unprecedented increase in people working from home. Worksafe maintains guidance aimed at employers to encourage them to consider the safety of home workers (here).

“If you run a business which has staff working from home, you are responsible for talking through and developing policies with them on how they’ll manage their health and safety when working at home”.

MBIE’s business.govt.nz website

So how can you ensure home based staff are protected?

“When we talk about home working, we are often talking about logistics – how will people access systems, how will teams keep in touch? Safety isn’t always first on employers’ minds” says Don Cameron, CEO of lone worker solutions provider StaySafe. “However just because an employee is at home doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about their safety. The duty of care remains the same wherever an employee is based. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak some businesses are navigating looking after lone workers for the first time. As H&S professionals the first thing that needs to be done is a risk assessment for these employees and measures put in place to ensure they are safe”.

What are the risks?

As outlined by WorkSafe, one of the biggest risks is that there may be no one able to help, should something go wrong. Risk of an injury or medical emergency is the same for a home working employee as for one on office premises and employers have the same duty of care.

Employers also don’t have the ability to assess and control the home working environment. “Whilst for most people we would hope that being at home is a safe and suitable place to work, we really do not know what environment an employee lives in. Domestic abuse charities have warned that isolation will lead to an increase in violence in the home and the risk of the virus itself could also leave someone who lives alone vulnerable. The bottom line is, if someone if working for you, you have to take steps to protect them” says Cameron.

However, undertaking updated risk assessments is not only necessary for newly home-based employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to an increased risk profile for some existing lone working staff who continue to undertake vital work within our communities. Health services, housing authorities and charity workers are still visiting people in their homes at a time when tensions are likely to be running high, increasing the likelihood of violence and aggression. Social distancing and isolation measures have led to usually busy areas being left deserted, leaving staff vulnerable.

“We have had many companies get in touch with us since the outbreak who have concerns about keeping their staff safe, whether that is protecting new home workers or monitoring the safety of staff who now attend sites alone as part of social distancing measures. A water authority in Australia and a Housing Association in the UK increased the numbers of people using our lone worker app within days of their countries going into lockdown. It is a global safety issue employers are facing everywhere”.

Improving safety through technology

Lone worker safety isn’t a new concept for health and safety professionals and the types of protection that businesses can offer staff are comprehensive. However, as with many industries, advancing technology is leading the way with regards to the solutions employers are choosing.

According to a 2019 Berg Insights Report, 20% of all lone worker solutions in Europe, and more than 40% in North America, are app based. This number is predicted to grow; worker safety devices based on GPS and cellular technology in Europe are expected to reach 1.1 million users at the end of 2022.

Typically lone worker apps consist of the app itself, which has a range of functions including panic button, GPS location, timed sessions, man down alerts and check-ins. Employee activity and the location of staff whilst at work is monitored via a cloud based hub where employers can respond to any alerts.

Lone worker apps are particularly suitable in the current climate because of how well they lend themselves to being trialled, rolled out and utilised by staff remotely.

Apps can be downloaded directly onto employees’ phones without the need for any additional equipment being delivered. At a time when supply chains are likely to be majorly disrupted, this is a big advantage. Monitors can be trained to use a system remotely via Zoom and staff protected quickly. Alternatively, the monitoring of staff can be outsourced to professional monitoring firms who will handle any alerts.

“We’re very used to rolling out StaySafe remotely.” says Stephen Robb, Director of Secure Mobility, StaySafe’s local partner. “We have managed roll-outs to over 1000 staff in Australia from the New Zealand. In this day and age, you don’t have to be in the same room, or even the same country as someone for them to get the most out of your product”.

Engagement at a distance

Launching a new solution when you can’t train staff collectively on site poses another challenge for employers. As with any investment, it is important to know you are getting staff engagement and ROI. Again, apps have an advantage here.

StaySafe has recently launched a number of updates to help increase engagement and usage. In-app training walks new users step by step through how to use the app and our insights portal shows businesses who is using the app and how often. Our support services are available over the phone, email and webchat and we actively reach out to users who haven’t completed their training to encourage them to log in and start a session.

Stephen Robb, Director, Secure Mobility

Increased home working – a permanent shift?

“What started out as a forced arrangement may become a catalyst for more flexible ways of working” says Cameron.

We don’t know the long-term effects at this point, but it is likely that some businesses will find positives in their new working arrangements. The ability to work from home is believed to improve productivity, mental wellbeing and work-life balance. It reduces the numbers of people commuting and as such can also have a positive effect on the environment. We have the technology to do it safely – so why not?

StaySafe provides a lone worker app and cloud-based hub that monitors and protects thousands of lone workers around the world. Find out more about how StaySafe helps you protect your employees while they work in social isolation.

Get in touch with us

Feel free to ask a question or let us know how we can help you protect your lone workers.

COVID-19: Safeguarding employees during social isolation

Over the last few months, COVID-19 has swept the globe, leaving behind a trail of fear, confusion and uncertainty. There is still a lot that is unknown about the coronavirus or the impact it will have on us as a society but from what we do know, it is currently spreading at an alarming rate and can be life-threatening.

Companies have been under increasing pressure to protect their staff, with some having to cease trading completely. The coronavirus has affected employees in almost every industry and due to its nature, no workers are exempt from the risk. With New Zealand having recently moved to level three, employers are having to consider the best ways to continue without risking the safety of their workforce.

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Plumbers Gasfitters & Drainlayers Board

A typical day for an investigator conducting a Board operation involves visiting sites, checking licences and making sure the quality of work being carried out is up to the standard required. Due to the nature of their roles, investigators working for the Board on industrial sites can be exposed to potential hazards such as slips, trips, falls and various other health and safety related injury and risk.

Jayson Thomas, Investigations & Complaints Manager at PGDB explains:

“Since our investigators spend a large amount of the day visiting different sites and carrying out investigations, it is important for us to know where our investigators are at any given time for health and safety reasons. We wanted something that could give us that information and that could also be tailored to the investigators’ operational requirements.”

Before launching StaySafe, the company relied on traditional communication methods such as calls and texts.

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Crockers Property Management

Crockers property management praise the simplicity and usability of the StaySafe smartphone app as they roll out the solution to protect their lone working staff.

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Identifying your lone workers – understanding the roles & risks

When we think of lone workers we usually imagine those working in complete isolation such as a security guard manning a building at night, or a farmer working out in the middle of a field. However, while this may be true for many, lone working doesn’t always mean being completely alone.

Lone workers may very well operate in highly populated areas or alongside clients, customers and members of the public.

Narrowing our definition of lone workers down to those completely in isolation means that many of our employees are not being included in our lone worker policy and are not receiving the level of protection they need as a result.

So, what then constitutes lone working and how can we identify lone workers in our organization?

A lone worker is anyone working without the direct and immediate support of supervisors or colleagues. To put it simply, if an employee cannot be seen or heard by a colleague, they are lone working, whether that be for all or part of their working day.

Identifying your lone workers

Some of your lone workers will be easy to identify by assessing work patterns and roles. However, there may be times where you may not even be aware that your employees are lone working. It may be useful to talk to your employees and ask the below questions to identify any ‘hidden lone workers’ in your organization.

  1. Do colleagues work in different parts of a building or site? E.g. two cleaners working on different floors.
  2. If working on a noisy site, will a colleague be able to see/hear another colleague if they need help?
  3. Do your employees travel alone during working hours?
  4. Are there times where employees working as pairs will be separated? E.g. taking separate lunch breaks.
  5. Will any of your employees be left working alone if a colleague is on leave?
  6. Are there times where an employee is left to man the shop floor alone?
  7. Are single employees left working late in the office or other work sites?

Once lone working practices have been identified, it is important that you risk assess each of these situations and put measures in place to ensure your employees are safe.

Understanding the risks

There are of course different risks associated with the level of isolation that comes with lone working. Those out in a remote and completely isolated location are more exposed to environmental risks that could lead to an accident, while those working alongside members of the public or in client’s home are at higher risk of experiencing violence and aggression.

We have produced an infographic that outlines some of the different types of lone working, examples of different roles associated with such situations and the risks that they may face.

If you would like to discuss identifying or protecting your lone workers, please get in touch via our contact form.

Get in touch with us

Feel free to ask a question or let us know how we can help you protect your lone workers.

StaySafe used by lone workers providing VIP protection on film sets

Above the Line Security have improved the safety of their at-risk employees by switching from a manual call-in system to the user-friendly StaySafe lone worker solution. Employees at Above the Line Security are responsible for guarding individuals and high-value equipment on busy film sites.

Prone to theft and coming into contact with potentially volatile paparazzi and members of the public, the company required a more reliable way of monitoring the safety of their guards.

StaySafe allows workers on site to send an alert in an emergency while providing the employee with an accurate location via a real-time map. Monitors are alerted if an employee triggers an alert or fails to check-in on the app during their shift.

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Learn how advancements in mobile technology are aiding lone worker safety

As technology is rapidly advancing, health and safety challenges are increasingly being solved with the assistance of smartphone apps. From providing quick information on the go to reliable monitoring, the ability of smartphones to harness new technologies allows businesses to access low cost, effective safety solutions.

For those working alone, this is particularly valuable as support from colleagues is not always readily available. Yet with 85% of adults in the UK owning a smartphone, support from a mobile device is.

So in what ways can advancements in mobile technology aid the safety of lone workers? Read more

StaySafe available on new Garmin inReach mini devices

Garmin inReach mini offers a smaller, lighter satellite communication device with 100% global coverage through Iridium’s satellite network.

The new mini device offers much of the same functionality as the larger Garmin inReach and provides all of the core functionality of the StaySafe app. It will even allow a lone worker to trigger a panic alarm from a connected Garmin watch, and to exchange messages with a monitor using their watch too.

Accurate location tracking allows remote workers to be monitored from the StaySafe Hub, while an SOS panic allows them to signal for help in an emergency. If a panic alert is triggered on the device, StaySafe will notify a monitor immediately, allowing an organisation to take action.

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Renewable Energy company switch from buddy system to StaySafe

Leading renewable energy company, BeBa Energy, have implemented the StaySafe app to protect their lone workers who operate remotely on solar farms.

Working over a large worksite and facing a range of environmental risks, the company found that monitoring the safety and whereabouts of their employees, was proving difficult. By switching from a buddy system to a reliable mobile app, Beba Energy is able to ensure that their renewable energy specialists can be monitored while they work and always have a way to signal for help when in need of assistance.

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Protecting Lone Workers from sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace can take many forms and is shockingly more common than we realise, equally impacting both men and women.

Statistics show that 83 million people have experienced sexual harassment from the age of 15, with 50% of women and 20% of men experiencing sexual harassment at work. Despite these shocking statistics, many more instances of sexual harassment in the workplace still go unnoticed, unreported and subsequently, unresolved.

Forms of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can range from mild to more extreme forms and can be written, verbal and physical. These range from unwanted comments and discrimination, emails with sexual content, sexual advances, intimidation, unwanted physical contact and assault. All forms should be taken equally as seriously and dealt with immediately by employers.

 Heightened Risks

Although sexual harassment can occur at any time and in any location, there is a greater risk to lone working employees, particularly when working late, out of hours and often out of sight where signalling for help can be challenging.

Lone workers are also at high risk when undertaking visits behind closed-doors, where they could face volatile behaviour and aggression from clients, tenants and abusive members of the public. Commonly, roles which involve lone workers visiting homes without any attendance include; care workers, charity workers, family officers, NHS staff, surveyors and real estate workers.

There are also lone workers who are required to deal with members of the public under the influence of alcohol and drugs or suffering from emotional issues which can cause a change in behaviour. Without the appropriate care and training, individuals can be left particularly vulnerable in one on one situations.

Consequences of sexual harassment

  • Stress reaction including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, lowered self-esteem and more
  • Poor company morale
  • Less productivity in staff
  • Creates an environment for sexual harassment to flourish
  • Lawsuits

By violating the dignity of a worker, sexual harassment can ultimately create an environment of an intimidating, hostile and degrading nature.

What can be done?

Sadly, many cases of sexual harassment go unreported due to workers feeling unable to challenge or defend themselves against the perpetrator if they are in fact a client. As a result, as much as 53% of women and 69% of men did not report sexual harassment at work.

Cases of sexual harassment may not be reported by staff if they do not feel confident that there is substantial support from their company put in place, creating a barrier for them to take action.

The effects of sexual harassment are monumental and even as little as one instance can have detrimental knock-on consequences to both the company and their staff if not investigated properly and dealt with. Therefore, this is why it is so important to educate and train your staff.

Educating and training staff can be achieved through a strong Sexual Harassment policy to ensure the workplace is free of discrimination.  Training sessions should also be arranged for employers to ask questions and be as informed as possible on the matter in order to provide reassurance and instil confidence so that they can be prepared and take the necessary response if faced with this situation.

As an employer, you should seek to have a work environment that is understanding and sympathetic to all employees, including dynamic risk assessment training to evaluate risks and how to overcome them.

You should also make it clear who to report incidents of sexual harassment to and reinforce the idea that employees experiences will be taken seriously.

Lone Worker Safety Solution

A safety solution in the form of an app should be highly considered, as it enables a lone worker to signal for help even in difficult situations. This kind of solution can reassure both the company and their staff by providing accurate and reliable safety monitoring through alert functionality and location updates.

Duress alert

If an employee feels threatened whilst working remotely or otherwise, they can raise an alarm secretly and unknown to their attacker by inputting a special duress PIN. This will fool the attacker into thinking the app has been disabled when in fact a duress alert has been raised in the Hub and help can be sent immediately.

Discreet panic

Generated by pressing the phones power button, a user can raise a panic alert swiftly and discreetly from a hidden area, such as a bag or pocket.

Wearable device

The StaySafe app can even be paired with a bluetooth button which can be attached to a lanyard, clothing or worn around the wrist, and used send a panic alert without touching their phone.

While safety measures, policies and training are essential in protecting employees from sexual harassment and assault, a lone worker app is a reliable way of ensuring a lone worker is never completely alone.