PET is a short and snappy acronym for health and safety managers to use when thinking about the risks to their lone workers. It stands for People, Environment and Tasks, and here, we explore each of the three risk categories in lone working in relation to who it affects, and how it can be managed. We even throw in an extra consideration which applies to everyone, so read on to find out what this is.
Who is most likely affected?
Anyone working in a role where they regularly interact with members of the public is at an increased risk of violence and aggression. Social workers, utility workers, charity volunteers, parking wardens and elected councillors are all good examples of those who might come under fire, with or without warning.
While some workers may be a specific target for crime, such as those who handle money and drugs, or who carry expensive equipment, for others, it might be working with those who are experiencing emotional distress which then tips over into aggressive behaviour.
Aside from the immediate threat, violence and aggression at work can lead to long-term mental health issues, absenteeism and high staff turnover, which only makes things worse for the remaining workers.
Managing the risk of violence and aggression
Conflict management training – Specific training for those who are in public-facing roles can give them the knowledge to identify conflict situations before they happen, and give them the tools to manage them. Training specifically aimed at lone workers will focus more on how to remove themselves from such a situation and away from immediate danger.
Risk Assessment – The HSE recommends a five-step process for managing the risk of violence, with step two looking at who might be harmed and how. This will help focus on which parts of their working environment or day-to-day operations need to be examined.
This might be a warning system for previously aggressive clients, a policy on working in isolated areas and home visit hours, or a way for those at risk to keep in touch with their colleagues or raise an alarm.
Who is most likely to be affected?
Those whose role involves working outside for most of the time are going to be impacted by the weather, so that might mean maintenance, utility, charity and construction workers, as well as security personnel to name a few examples.
Some utility workers aren’t just potentially going to be out in bad weather – bad weather affecting power will most likely be the reason they’re out in the first place. As working at a height, in the dark in high winds or storms is a given, it should be covered in a risk assessment, with the right control measures in place.
For others, the hazard might be less obvious, but still important to consider. One example might be travelling to a meeting during a flood alert or freezing temperatures, so it’s important to think about whether there are adequate processes in place if those driving have an accident or become stranded.
The risks are present regardless of season, with wet weather year-round increasing the chances of slips, but fewer daylight hours of winter presenting the additional hazard of low visibility. Then you have the potential of cold stress or heat exhaustion as the temperature peaks and plummets.
How to manage weather risks
Clothing – Those working outside in wet or cold weather conditions need waterproof, well-fitting and breathable garments. Providing free protective equipment and clothing to those who are exposed to the elements is a requirement of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
High-visibility clothing is necessary for certain sectors where workers are outside in low light or fog but they must be seen. Also, think about those who wear goggles; wet weather can cause them to fog, so you’ll need demisting spray, or have to wait until it’s dry.
Shelter and breaks – Breaks which allow workers to warm up should be more regular in particularly cold, wet or windy weather to reduce the chance of cold stress and slips and falls. If there’s a real downpour and the waterproof clothing hasn’t held up, they might need the opportunity to change clothes.
Training – Any training should be specific to the role and the risks. This might be increased stopping distances for drivers in wet weather, or which activities need to be delayed in high winds where the danger of flying debris and becoming unbalanced is greater.
Expectations – Bad weather slows us down, so you might need to alter your targets while it persists. Workers should be encouraged to take extra care to avoid an accident, and feel no pressure to meet the usual demand.
Postponement – Even with all the above considerations, sometimes the weather just gets in the way entirely and the job will need to wait.
Manual roles come with a host of hazards, including working at a height, with dangerous substances, around moving parts, equipment and electricity. But the real dangers are a badly executed risk assessment, lack of training, or staff complacency which can mean risks are forgotten, ignored, or go unnoticed by either the workers or their managers.
While lone working can heighten these risks further, sometimes working with other people isn’t feasible or possible, so a risk assessment will need to take into account things like working in isolation. Communication methods and check-ins should be firmly in the company’s health and safety policy to avoid or at least lessen the severity of an incident.
Managing task-related risk
Risk assessment – Given the scope of risks in manuals roles, a risk assessment is essential to identify and plan for each of them by:
- Identifying hazards
- Assessing the risks
- Controlling the risks
- Recording your findings
- Reviewing the controls
Get started by visiting our five steps to a risk assessment which draws on resources from the HSE, Health and Safety legislation experts, and experience Health and Safety managers.
Bonus potential risk factor: the ageing workforce
In 2022, the number of people aged 65 and over who were still working reached a record level of 1.4 million, with the largest proportion of those (over 12%) working in health and social care.
While assumptions mustn’t be made around ageing and ill health, musculoskeletal disorders, heart problems or chronic breathing difficulties are more common among older workers. Public Health England estimated that 40% of the working-age population will have a long-term health condition by 2030, so allowances need to be made to ensure an age-diverse workforce where all employees feel supported.
Managing the risk of underlying health conditions
Age-sensitive risk assessments – Consider the needs of older workers and look at how to support them in their role to prevent accidents or ill health. An example may be making adjustments to shift durations and extending breaks, and allowing more time to absorb health and safety training.
New opportunities – Give older workers a choice to move to an alternative role which may be a better fit for them if their current position is putting them under a strain.
Organisation culture – Work towards building a working environment in which all workers feel comfortable discussing any health conditions which might affect their work, giving them confidence that the organisation will support them in any way they can. This will help minimise the risk of the condition being worsened, or the worker not disclosing a condition which would put them or colleagues at risk if not accounted for. It may well be it’s not safe for that person to work on their own in certain situations.
A solution to meet the three risk categories of lone working
Pick Protection’s lone worker app and devices allows workers to communicate in high risk situations, either in the moment during an emergency, or beforehand as a precaution. Users can set a Time at Risk, enable Fall Detection, or raise an SOS in seconds with a device that is as simple to use as a smartphone app and a click of a button.
Talk to us about how Pick Protection’s lone worker solution covers all bases when it comes to ensuring the safety of your workforce.