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Lone Worker Protection Risk Assessment

Connexion2 : 10 March, 2011  (Special Report)
Craig Swallow of Connexion2 provides detailed insight into the subject of Lone Worker Protection and explains what constitutes a lone worker and what duties organisations have towards their protection
Lone Worker Protection Risk Assessment

According to the Health & Safety Executive, lone workers are “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.  They work in a wide range of professions within a number of sectors. Most UK companies will have lone working staff and therefore a duty to ensure their safety. Figures highlighted by the Health & Safety Executive from the 2008/9 British Crime Survey indicate that there were approximately 305,000 threats of violence and 321,000 physical assaults by member of the public on British workers during the 12-months prior to the interviews. This represents a worrying rising trend facing many lone workers.

Employers have responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees and the health and safety of those affected by the work e.g. contractors and self-employed people who companies may engage.  These responsibilities cannot be negated or transferred to people who work alone. The Health and Safety Executive says:  “It is the employer’s duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risk where necessary.”

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act added another layer of liability for organisations and, importantly, managers.  An employer's duty of care is not only a legal requirement but now it must be seen to be demonstrated that a company or organisation is doing everything practicable to protect the health and safety of employees. As a result many more UK businesses are adding ‘lone working’ to their risk register and taking the matter more seriously.

A lone worker should not be at more risk than any other employee and precautions should be put into place to account for normal work and foreseeable emergencies such as illness, accidents and workplace violence.

Employers should identify potential risk such as:

* Does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker

* Is there risk of violence

* Are women staff especially at risk

* Can the lone worker summon help in the event of an emergency


Lone Workers At Risk From Violence Or Accidents

Those working alone and who face a risk of violence or abuse include community based public sector staff, bus and rail staff and retail workers. Other workers such as security staff, engineers and logistics/warehouse employees may be at risk of robbery related violence or an accident. The provision of any alarming system must take these specific factors into account in order to minimise employee’s risk and business risk. However, any hardware provided needs to incorporate a wider, ongoing assessment of risk.

Risk Assessment

Lone workers by definition are more vulnerable to accident and aggression than most employees and therefore it is vitally important that their employers develop long-term strategies in order to protect their safety.  Risk assessment should help decide the right level of supervision, training and protective equipment that needs to be employed.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) require employers to conduct a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of the risks to which employees are subjected to whilst they are at work.  Any employer who has either failed to recognise a foreseeable risk or address a significant potential risk is likely to have been negligent in failing to give proper consideration to the potential risks faced by employees.

The MHSW Regulations generally oblige an employer to assess the risks of employees and make arrangements for their health and safety by effective:

* Planning

* Organisation

* Control

* Monitoring

The risks covered should, “where appropriate, include the need to protect employees from exposure to reasonably foreseeable violence”.  The HSE estimates that it costs £17-19,000, on average, just to investigate a physical assault.  It can take a lot less to prevent one.

Changing work patterns and the need for businesses to 'downsize' are resulting in more and more staff becoming classified as lone workers.

Many companies have been issuing lone workers with mobile phones equipped with a speed-dial for staff to raise the alarm if threatened. A mobile phone is a communications tool; it is not necessarily an effective tool to use when faced with an aggressor or if a worker may become ‘man-down’. Arguably, by providing a worker with a mobile phone an employer increases the risks faced by the worker.

BS8484 & When the Police will get involved

One way of protecting lone workers is through a dedicated alarm system.  With the increasing number of personal attack alarms now on the market, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has reviewed its position on their use and been instrumental in helping define British Standard BS8484 for Lone Working.  BS8484 came into effect on the 30th September.  It defines Lone Worker Devices (LWD) and Alarm-Receiving Centre (ARC) compliance as well as calling for sound financial grounding, secure data protection, quality training and full audit capability from the supplier of a lone worker solution. The introduction of the standard sets a benchmark against which LWDs and services can be measured. It has been driven by ACPO and the security industry to promote best practice for lone workers and to reduce the high number of false alarms being received and responded to by the emergency services.

In January, ACPO also published its updated policy document to Police forces detailing when and how the Police will get involved in responding to an alarm. Appendix V details the requirements for lone worker systems and calls for devices to be audited against BS8484 and the ARC to conform to BS5979 Cat II. The Police plan to move towards allocating a URN to a compliant ARC - without a URN it will become increasingly difficult to get a Police response. Because of this, businesses and other organisations need to treat lone worker alarm systems with the same level of importance as they do their building alarms. Ask 100 business leaders if they want to ensure the Police respond to an incident involving a lone worker and 100 will say ‘yes’.

LWDs are now specifically required to possess the functionality to initiate an audio connection to the ARC and to have the capability to automatically retry that connection until an acknowledgement is received.  They must also be able to receive a discreet signal from an ARC controller to acknowledge audio connection, have the capacity to be remotely accessed by a controller and contain an automated low battery warning facility.

When considering the supply of LWDs, the standard also states that the device should, like IdenticomÒ, be capable of being discreetly activated so as not to alert an aggressor, and where a man-down sensor is fitted, must have the facility to automatically send an activation message to the ARC. Neither function is common on mobile phones.

ARCs must have the ability to locate the lone worker and obtain their position remotely in the event of an incident.  The device must also enable the ARC to dial into the LWD, listen discreetly to what is happening and initiate an appropriate response should a previously raised alarm be dropped unexpectedly.

It is essential you conduct your own research on BS8484.  Beware of potential misinformation from suppliers. Some may claim compliance due to the ARC element of their service being audited and approved - but not the complete solution.

Training Is Essential

Lone worker technology can play an integral part in improving the personal safety of staff but only if it is introduced as part of an overall personal safety strategy.  It cannot prevent employees from facing violence or aggression, nor can it help them to deal with such situations. Therefore they should never be considered as an alternative to safety procedures or introduced instead of personal safety training.

Lone worker safety training provides comprehensive support in respect of all aspects of lone worker protection, which is not reliant on the implementation of technology alone.  Training services provide employers with guidance and training on bespoke risk assessment toolkits, lone worker policy development, conflict management, lone worker safety, managing a mobile workforce and legal duty of care. In addition training and direction must be provided to lone workers to enable them to identify hazards and take appropriate action to avoid them. The training should give employees the knowledge and skills to be able to defuse a potentially volatile situation and even be able to safety extricate themselves when necessary. Services should be tailored to meet the exacting needs of the client organisation, and should only be delivered by experienced professionals.

Choosing The Right Technology

When choosing lone worker technology, make sure you involve employees using it. This enables them to understand that the system is about tracing them if they need help and not about checking up on them.

Ideally, LWDs should be covert so that they do not exasperate potential confrontational situations, enabling the lone worker to discreetly raise an alarm if threatened. They should allow a third party to listen to what is happening and record events whatever the distance. Devices, like IdenticomÒ, include a lanyard attachment that enables it to be worn around the neck as a standard ID and hides a ‘rip alarm’ function, which is triggered if the unit is forcibly removed from the wearer.  They should be flexible enough to be configured in a number of ways, thereby allowing an employer to adopt the device without the need to significantly change or alter current working practices.

LWD’s with man-down not only protect lone workers from abuse or attack but also incorporate the capability for a manned monitoring centre to be alerted, either manually or automatically, in the case of injury or incapacity of the user.  State-of-the-art signal processing technology analyses tilt, immobility and any sudden impacts, in combination with non-response timed alerts. This, in addition to a rip alarm and discreetly operable manual call button, helps detect an employee in difficulty, and raises an alarm across the GSM phone network, whilst minimising false alarms.

With GPS

Where companies require additional support in safeguarding vulnerable workers, LWDs with a GPS facility enables them to erect a Geo-fence or “safety zone” around a predetermined area and receiving alerts if their lone worker travels outside the predefined invisible boundary.

Ideal for lone workers in the transport, retail and financial industries to ensure that they safely reach a specific location at a precise time, these LWDs can also be used for audit tracking to protect personnel from accusations that specific tasks have not been carried out in a precise location or to highlight signs of kidnap. In addition to lone worker protection, such LWDs can be used to manage and locate lone workers for reasons of an emergency, job scheduling and planning. It can also be useful to locate vehicular based staff where traditional vehicle based tracking isn’t possible or commercially viable, for example with non-powered or restricted power vehicles.

There are numerous lone worker devices on the market, but many do not meet the guidelines specified by the ACPO. Identicom® has been awarded ACPO Secured by Design (SBD) accreditation.  Secured by Design is the UK Police flagship initiative supporting the principles of "designing out crime" through the use of effective crime prevention and security standards for a range of applications.

Litigation For Personal Injuries Claims:

There are very sound business and moral reasons why employers should effectively manage any threat of workplace violence.  Even when staff are not physically harmed, repeated occurrences of swearing, threats, racial abuse and other forms of verbal abuse can lead to depression, stress, reduced morale, absenteeism, retention problems and reduced productivity.  Employees who had been victims of verbal abuse have stated that they have suffered a range of symptoms including crying spells, feelings of unworthiness, lack of direction and motivation, fatigue, irritability, difficulty in sleeping and eating disorders.

* A County Court action (eg personal injury where the claim is up to £50,000) will cost at least £50,000 and usually takes at least 3 years for the case to be heard.

* A High Court action (eg personal injury where the claim is over £50,000) will cost at least £100,000 and perhaps in excess of £1,000,000, and usually takes at least 5 years for the case to be heard.

* While legal action is in progress, everybody involved is being diverted from the job they were originally recruited to do.

Continuous evaluation and development of best practice strategies and equipment are the most important elements in reducing risks for lone workers. Police crime prevention officers, local authorities and sector/industry bodies should all be able to provide advice. 

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