The risk of lone working became prominent in the late 1980's following the disappearance of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh. After arranging to meet a house buyer, referred to as "Mr Kipper" in her diary, outside a property in Fulham she disappeared and her body never found. Suzy was officially declared dead, presumed murdered, in 1994 eight years after she vanished.
Following the disappearance of their daughter Suzy's parents established The Suzy Lamplugh Trust. Much of the Trust's early work centered on the need for employers to protect their staff when they are working alone.
What is lone working?
In the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance document ‘Working Alone’, a lone worker is defined as someone who "works by themselves without close or direct supervision."
To avoid confusion in this instance we are not talking about staff who are left alone momentarily in the setting or staff such as managers in offices. Although these staff may be 'working alone' they are within the building with other people present.
Lone working in these terms refers to someone who might be working outside of their normal place of work on business. Examples of this might be when staff attend training sessions, undertake home visits, or stay late to finish something when everyone else has gone home. At these times your employees may not be in your premises but their safety and welfare remains your responsibility
As a consultant I work alone most of the time, especially when I'm out on the road visiting clients, and as such I have my own measures to keep myself safe. These include texting a family member when I arrive at my visit with an estimate of the time I will be with the client and calling when I leave after the meeting. If I am longer than I have stated the family member will call me to ensure that I'm okay. I will also call once I'm home so that they know I am home safe and well.
Being responsible only for my own safety means that I don't have a formal policy or risk assessment in place but as employers this should be either included in your health and safety policy or a stand alone policy in accordance with The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Why do you need a policy and risk assessment?
Having a Lone Working policy and risk assessment in place ensures that you are assessing the risks that lone workers face and demonstrates your commitment towards your employee's safety. It should detail both the employer and employees responsibilities, how and when to report incidents and the action that will be taken.
As with all risk assessment the purpose is to identify the risk and then put in place measures to control or avoid them. In the case of lone working this is identifying times and situations where staff may be out of the building and not directly supervised. Some situations will carry a higher risk than others, for example staff attending a training course may pose a lower risk than one who is going to someone's home to do a home visit.
Control measures which you might wish to consider are:
having a buddy system for staff where they check in with a member of the management team preferably by calling rather than texting
ensuring that staff have each others telephone numbers on a card which can be accessed by the staff members family or the emergency services in an emergency situation
encouraging staff not to stay after hours in the building on their own
sending two members of staff to a home visit at a private address
Of course there will be others depending on how you work and the situations where your employees may be at risk but be careful not to overthink this and become too paranoid. Whilst you have a responsibility to keep your staff safe you don't want to be chastising them for forgetting to text you as soon as they get home! Added to that is the employees responsibility to consider their own personal safety and to not put themselves in situations where they feel at risk or uncomfortable.
To help I've put together a template lone worker risk assessment with examples and a policy that can be amended and adopted in your setting both of which you can access here.
For more information from The Suzy Lamplugh Trust on personal safety click here.