Over the past several years, there have been significant shifts in how local council employees carried out their roles and performed their work. While the COVID crisis may have been the biggest driver of the transition from office-based working to lone or hybrid working arrangements, other factors contributed too. For instance, budgetary restrictions have placed Local Authorities under considerable strain, forcing them to do more with fewer employees. In this in-depth guide to mitigating the risks lone workers employed by local councils regularly face, we define the concept, ask why it’s becoming a more pressing issue and discuss ways to mitigate the many risks. What Is a Lone Worker? The HSE defines lone workers as individuals who “work by themselves without close or direct supervision” (HSE). The term incorporates delivery drivers, health workers, petrol station attendants, work-from-employees and a diverse array of other workers. In a local authority context, we are talking about the enquiry, fraud and benefits officers who visit residents’ properties, adult social care workers, parking officers, teachers and council enforcement officers, amongst others. https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/What-Is-a-Lone-Worker.jpg When thinking about lone workers, it is important to note that they don’t necessarily always work in total isolation. In fact, the danger usually comes when they come into contact with others - usually members of the public. Why Is Lone Worker Vulnerability Becoming a Bigger Issue? Working alone has always involved assuming more risk than employees who work in a team. Unfortunately, lone workers are more isolated. So when things go wrong, there isn’t always someone to provide immediate help. Historically, employers were not as good at identifying and mitigating risks. Today, most understand that minimising risk is critical to guaranteeing employee safety. Lone worker vulnerability is also becoming a bigger issue because more employees are adopting hybrid working models. A slimmed-down workforce also means more people are working on their own. The COVID pandemic turned remote and lone working from a minority concern to something that impacted us all. Organisations suddenly understood the risks more comprehensively. What Are the Risks Involved in Lone Working? The risks associated with lone working vary from job to job and differ depending on your responsibilities. For instance, an employee who spends all day working remotely at home will face different challenges and risks than a carer who visits service users’ homes. In general, we can divide the risks into five core categories: https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/What-Are-the-Risks-Involved-in-Lone-Working.jpg \tHuman threat This is the threat of violence, aggression and intimidation from members of the public. In recent years, this has become a serious issue. More than a third of public sector employees have reported being violently attacked or threatened at work (SussexExpress). \tEnvironmental threat This is the risk inherent in a person’s surroundings. It includes slipping, tripping and falls, as well as risks like electrocution from nearby infrastructure and weather-related incidents. \tTravel risks Lone workers are regularly injured or hurt in travel incidents. The most common are driving accidents. However, travel risks are not restricted to private transportation. Public transport can be just as dangerous. \tHealth and medical risks Workers with no backup or support are particularly prone to complications arising from health and medical issues. This is particularly true for time-critical health issues, such as strokes. If an employee works alone, they may not receive the medical assistance they require as quickly as they should. \tMental health considerations Councils must also consider how lone working impacts individuals’ mental health. Loneliness and other challenges that stem from being isolated for long periods can be exacerbated by lone working and solutions should be found.What Are a Council’s Responsibilities to Lone Workers? Councils have a legal duty of care to their employees. According to the HSE, this duty involves minimising risks to employees as far as is reasonably possible. This means that, wherever possible, risks should be eliminated entirely. And where comprehensive mitigation is not an option, councils should do everything they practically can to reduce the risk. Failure to fulfil this responsibility can result in significant financial penalties for the council and even prison sentences for those responsible for protecting lone workers. How Can a Council Best Protect Lone Workers? Local councils can drastically improve lone worker safety by implementing safety technology, like Inform’s Shield Solution, into safety protocols. However, these technologies must be underpinned by a comprehensive understanding of how risk mitigation works. Typically, risk mitigation involves five core processes: \tMonitoring - incorporating regular check-ins and contacts into the lone worker’s schedule. For instance, having to check-in with a supervisor after every home visit. Essentially, monitoring enables supervisors and managers to check up with their lone workers at regular intervals to establish whether or not they need assistance. https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/How-Can-a-Council-Best-Protect-Lone-Workers.jpg \tCommunication - providing stable and secure communication channels that enable the lone worker to reach out to their supervisor or vice versa. This could be as complex as two-way, verbal communication or a pull-cord alarm system. \tTraining - offering employees considered training on how to handle challenging situations, identify risks and de-escalate encounters. \tRisk assessments - all local councils should carry out risk assessments. Risk assessments involve identifying potential hazards, evaluating the severity of the risk, deciding on appropriate mitigation measures and creating a record of this process. You should periodically revisit risk assessments to establish whether anything has changed. \tLone worker policy - you will compile your risk assessments into a lone worker policy. This will also include the steps you have taken to mitigate these risks, who is responsible for lone worker safety in different contexts and how employees can report risks, concerns, hazards or incidents. Inform Shield Lone Worker Solution for Councils The Inform Shield Lone Worker Solution for councils incorporates several features that help Local Authorities protect their employees. For instance, our lone worker system enables lone workers to schedule check-in calls, trigger emergency alarms and communicate their location. When a security call goes unanswered or the alarm goes off, individuals on the predefined emergency tree are automatically contacted. The solution consists of various compatible products that councils can choose between and incorporate into their own bespoke safety systems. This includes a Lone Worker Fob, Web App, Mobile System and 24/7/365 emergency call-taking centre. The system helps keep lone workers safe, secure and healthy while also ensuring supervisors and managers are able to fulfil their responsibilities to employees. To learn more about our safety technology, visit the Inform Shield Lone Worker Solution product page or reach out to our experienced team.