Protecting Lone Workers through good management

Protecting Lone Workers through good management

An example of getting it wrong was the case of a lone South West Water worker drowned whilst unblocking a water filter, falling through a hole of a filtration tank and into 6.5 feet of water. Despite activating the company’s lone worker alarm system, he was not found until it was too late.

In the aftermath of the accident, the company’s risk assessment was deemed inadequate, as was the staff call logging systems.  The company was fined £1.8 million.

The potential that good Lone Worker policies may have on improving Lone Worker confidence and therefore productivity is one thing.  But how can an employer achieve the level of confidence that they too won’t end up like South West Water?

There is a logical process, which I call the 5 pillars, on which Lone Worker protection can be based.  The pillars are: Risk assessment; Policies & procedures; Calling for help, Training and Management

The key to it is Management.  As was shown by the example above, if the risk assessment is inadequate then everything that follows is compromised.  Arguably a failure of risk assessment is a failure of management.

So, what does best practice look like from the management point of view?

First; don’t skimp on the risk assessment.  It makes sense if the Lone Working employees are consulted and involved in the process.  The combination of their ‘up-close’ experience and a wider and more detached view can be a powerful combination.

Second, from that stems a clear policy which states what you are trying to achieve and how it meshes with other organisational policies such as security and health and safety. The questions that need answering are:

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • How does it fit with other policies, such as health and safety and security?
  • How do I mitigate against the identified risks?
  • Does one size fit all? e. will one solution fit all risks?  If not divide into categories and provide a solution to each
  • How do I protect against the unexpected?
  • How do I make sure all Lone Worker employees are always properly prepared in implementing the procedures?
  • How should Lone Workers be managed?

Policies develop into procedures which should be sensible and well thought-through.  Procedures should be relatively straightforward and show how you translate the policy statements into practical steps.

Third, provided the policy identifies the need, there should a of method of identifying an employee in trouble and doing something about it.   This means they should be able to all for help quickly and accurately; especially when the unpredictable happens, as it does! Perhaps hope for the best but prepare for the worst should be the watchword.

Fourth is ensuring employees are prepared and know what to do in keeping themselves safe.  This means training.    Anyone who does not know and understand a process will not carry it out.  A training session on Day 1 and then never again will fail as memory fades and other matters take precedence.   New employees become lone workers and get on with the job, often without sufficient training.  Lone Worker incidents may not be frequent, but they do happen, usually when not expected.   So, training should be programmed into the annual calendar and new Lone Workers catered for.

Fifth is management which is mainly a question of:

  • Checking usage, details of which should be supplied by the Lone Worker system supplier
  • Regular feedback from Lone Working employees
  • Following up any incidents
  • Providing regular training
  • Updating of policies, procedures and training

A good supplier of Lone Worker services will assist with all 5 pillars from accumulated knowledge and experience gained from all their customers, distilled into Best Practice.

These 5 pillars represent good management.  They protect the organisation from legislation by demonstrating their endeavours in protecting their staff.   Well protected employees mean a well-protected organisation.

Anything else may mean a result like South West Water.


Blog by Patrick Dealtry

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