These lone workers come in many guises. It might be the office cleaner who starts work after everyone else has gone home, the retail worker who’s shutting up shop for the night, the security guard, the delivery driver, the home care worker who visits elderly people in their homes, or the surveyor who creeps under your floorboards to find out if that home you want to buy has any defects.
And the general term “lone working” doesn’t just cover people who work completely alone, it also refers to remote workers or people who work with no direct supervision. It is expected to become even more common, as working habits continue to evolve and change, and advancing technology allows more people to avoid the grind of the daily commute by working remotely.
The added focus on care sector jobs and security positions is also likely to increase the number of lone workers in the future. We should recognise that lone working can actually be a positive thing for many people, but there’s little doubt that in some professions it can put employees at greater risk.
Statistics from the British Crime Survey indicate that around 150 lone workers are physically or verbally attacked every day, sometimes with terrible consequences. It’s shocking that such a thing as the International Workers’ Memorial Day has to exist, but sadly exist it does.
While there are no specific legal duties on employers in relation to lone working, the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act still applies as it would to any other worker. Put in a nutshell, the UK’s employers have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their lone workers.
The British Security Industry Association – the trade association representing the UK’s private security industry – has said the protection of lone workers should be a crucial consideration for every business as part of its health and safety strategy, and I completely agree.
Even if it’s not in a situation that would normally be classed as risky or dangerous, being alone at work can still feel intimidating. Most employee surveys will show that feeling safe on the job – or not, as the case may be - has a huge impact on an employee’s wellbeing.
This is why lone workers need a two-pronged approach; to be provided with clear, adequate safeguards, such as a mechanism to call for help if they feel threatened, but also to be reassured by their employer that their safety is important to them.
In other words, there’s no point in making lone worker safety a box-ticking exercise; it needs to be firmly embedded in company culture. The last thing any employer would want is an employee to think that their well-being is being risked in order to cut corners or save money.
At Pick Protection, the team are working hard to develop a range of innovative lone worker solutions. Thanks to the tremendous support we have received from our investors – Equity Gap, the University of Strathclyde, Gabriel Investment Syndicate, the Scottish Investment Bank and Unipart Group – we will be in a position to bring this to market in the very near future.
While the inspiration behind our range of solutions may not have been work-related – my neighbour was attacked and nobody came to help – I believe that we invest so much energy in trying to feel well-protected at home and in our cars, that it’s only natural to want to extend that feeling of safety to work.
It’s human nature to want to feel safe, so it makes perfect sense that employees who feel not just physically secure at work, but also that their safety is important to their employers, perform better, are happier and are more productive.
• Rebecca Pick is founder and chief executive officer of Pick Protection