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Reducing lone worker risk in the building industry

Rocksure Systems : 06 July, 2007  (Technical Article)
Martin Rogers, Sales Director, Rocksure Systems examines the subject of lone worker protection in the building industry
The boom in building, especially amongst house builders, has resulted in year on year increases in the building of new homes across the country. New properties not only include private dwellings but also those built as partnerships with housing associations and local councils. For the house builder this means employing more temporary and permanent staff in sales positions for which they have a duty of care.

An employer has responsibility for the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. These responsibilities cannot be 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."

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 from illness, injury of immobilisation

House builders have a unique risk profile not only because of the hazards of working on a building site but also because sales staff often work alone, meeting the public face to face on a daily basis. Marketing suites are often temporary buildings with access limited to a single door thereby making it impossible for staff to flee if faced with aggression, abuse or physical assault.
In addition, sales staff are often called upon to work irregular hours and visit properties where potential purchasers have a property to sell and are looking to buy using their existing property as part exchange. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust was founded following the disappearance of 25-year-old estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, in 1986, after going to meet an unknown client.

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 oblige an employer to assess the risks of employees and make arrangements for their health and safety. 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.

Some common misconceptions include the following:.

1 Using a mobile phone - in such a situation is often futile as it can be easily and quickly knocked to the ground. Similarly, if a lone worker is incapacitated and unable to reach a phone he will be unable to summon help. Mobile phones neither protect nor provide a means of notifying an employer when a lone worker is in difficulty.

2 Ringing into the office - if a worker is incapacitated he or she is not able to raise an alarm by ringing into the office nor can an employer locate their whereabouts. In addition, if a member of staff uses this method as a safety check for registering when they attend a viewing and then again when they leave it places undue responsibility on the recipient of the calls to note if the member of staff does not check back in. At what point does a company contact the emergency services - by the time the alarm is raised it could be too late. There is also the additional problem of out of hours viewing when the office is unattended.

3 Issuing a device to females only - whilst women are more vulnerable to sexual assault, male employees face equal risk from verbal and physical abuse and injury.

4 Doing nothing - compensation claims, gross negligence manslaughter and corporate manslaughter means that doing nothing is not an option.

Many house builders are now providing their lone workers with personal alarms (PAs) but these come in a variety of guises and prices. Such has been the number of PAs introduced to the market in the past few years that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has been reviewing its position on their use. In April 2006 it issued guidelines on the type of device that should be used and how the police will respond when alarms are activated.

False alarms are inevitable with PAs and therefore the security company monitoring the alarm must have the necessary infrastructure to be able to ascertain whether the alarm has been triggered accidentally. In fact to obtain police attendance, PA systems now require some additional indication that a criminal offence is in progress. One means of achieving this is by using devices with a facility that enables the security centre to listen into what is happening and assess whether or not the PA user is facing a possible assault.

Products like Peoplesafe that use mobile telephone technology, are equipped with two buttons conform to police policy. For example, Peoplesafe is equipped with a covert emergency button that activates the alarm, which opens up a voice call to a third party whilst at the same time surreptitiously notifying the wearer that the alarm has been triggered and is active. A second concealed button enables the wearer to notify their employer when they know they are entering a potentially hazardous situation. This enables the worker to check-in and out of appointments and prevents a Susie Lamplugh situation occurring. As devices like Peoplesafe are equipped with GSM, the system has the ability to locate the individual in the event of an emergency.

Finally, the ACPO state that the training and retraining of users should be incorporated into the maintenance of PAs. Companies like Rocksure Systems provide a total solutions package that includes the device, operator response, tracking, training, configuration with the most appropriate mobile network and ongoing support.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of utilising lone worker devices such as Peoplesafe is its ability to ensure that a company puts a lone worker safety emergency plan into operation for each member of staff. Such a procedure ensures that an organisation is able to respond quickly should an emergency arise.

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