By Daniel Hunter

Despite UK businesses having a legal obligation to protect their employees, 36% have insufficient measures in place to protect their staff when working alone, according to recent research.

A study undertaken on behalf of communications business Daisy Group found that two thirds (66%) of people were required to work alone as part of their job, either regularly or occasionally, and a fifth of all of those surveyed (19%) said their employer never checked the welfare of staff when working alone.

Of those required to work either alone or off-site, 65% said that the monitoring arrangements in the organisation they worked for were haphazard. Just one in four (25%) said they were aware that they had responsibilities to let others know of their whereabouts and to ‘check in’ with colleagues when working alone.

If incapacitated due to an accident whilst working alone, one in six lone workers said that they would expect it to take up to seven hours for their colleagues to notice they were missing. A further 10% expected it to take eight hours or longer.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that there are approximately six million lone workers in the UK, however the research suggests that the number could be much higher when taking into consideration occasional lone working, such as attending client meetings, doing site visits or making deliveries.

Marie Wheatley, Group Head of HR at Daisy Group, said: "Most businesses are very proactive about looking after their staff whilst they are on site, but it seems that there’s a real case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to their lone workers.

“Whether staff are spending the majority of their time unsupervised or just occasionally going to client meetings, businesses need to acknowledge their responsibilities to educate their lone workers about procedures and to take adequate steps to make sure that, in the event of a problem, staff have an adequate support network.”

The research also discovered that some of the worst protected when off site were those working in the professional/business services sector, due to the amount of driving and off-site visits or meetings they were required to do, and the lack of measures in place. Half (50%) stated their employer did insufficient welfare checks, and nearly a third (30%) in the sector said they expected it to take at least four hours for their colleagues to raise the alarm in the event of a problem.

This was in contrast to those working in the property industry which, despite having a high number of lone workers, said their employers were the most proactive. More than a quarter (26%) said that their employer took steps to protect lone workers, and a third (32%) stated that their employer was ‘very good at looking after the health and safety of staff’.

Marie Wheatley added: “Lone worker protection used to be very expensive, but there are now a variety of options available to suit businesses’ needs and budget, whether it’s lone worker devices or apps, GPS tracking for staff smartphones, or simply getting a special phone tariff for inter-company calls to operate a buddy system.
“Whilst it is good to see that some businesses make suitable provisions to protect lone workers, it is disappointing that there are so few of them. In this day and age, and with all the technology at their disposal, there really is no excuse for businesses to leave lone worker safety to chance.”

Daisy Group’s low-cost tips for improving lone worker safety

· Establish good practice. Most employees are unaware that they have a responsibility for their own safety. Remind staff to inform colleagues of their intended whereabouts and to check in on a regular basis when working alone or off site.

· Assess the risk. Some work situations are more dangerous than others. Identify what likely scenarios the lone worker could come up against, and what level of protection is required to mitigate the situation.

· Multi-task. Assess whether you could make use of your company’s existing telecoms or IT provision, or if it could be adapted to better protect lone workers, such as through using lone worker apps on mobile phones, GPS tracking on mobile devices, or getting a better rate on intercompany calls so that colleagues can stay in touch without phone bills shooting up.

· Test the system. Check whether, in the event of a problem, staff would know when and how to report it. Are there any situations when processes wouldn’t work? Could you get in touch the employee’s next of kin, should you need to?

· Ask for feedback. Many lone workers will be aware of potential problems before they happen, such as areas with a poor phone signal or high instances of violent crime, so work towards solving problems before they occur. Ask staff whether they have any safety concerns and work together to alleviate them, such as switching mobile phone networks to improve signal.